Police officers who shot a man with a knife acted in self-defence

The two police officers who shot a 23-year-old German man in Amsterdam New West on Thursday, 13 August 2020, resulting in the death of the man, acted in self-defence. That is the conclusion of the Public Prosecution Service based on the investigation carried out by the National Police Criminal Investigation Department. The Public Prosecution Service has therefore decided to dismiss the case. The police officers will therefore not be prosecuted.

The National Police Criminal Investigation Department—as is usual in cases where someone is killed in a police shooting—carried out an investigation into the fatal shooting incident in August last year at the request of the chief public prosecutor in Amsterdam. The National Police Criminal Investigation Department carries out such a criminal investigation to establish whether the use of firearms by the police officers was lawful. To obtain the most complete insight possible, the National Police Criminal Investigation Department spoke not only to the police officers involved, but also to witnesses of the shooting incident, and to the mother and several friends of the victim. The investigation made use of various camera images made by these witnesses. The following emerged from this investigation.

What happened in the days preceding the incident?

The 23-year-old man travelled from Germany to Amsterdam with a friend on Monday, 10 August 2020 to spend a few days there. On the first evening, they visited a coffee shop where the 23-year-old man smoked four joints and ate space cake. That night he did not wish to return home and did not return at all to the hotel where he intended to stay with his friend. On Wednesday, 12 August his friend reported him missing to the Amsterdam police. 

What happened on 13 August?

On Thursday afternoon, 13 August, the mother of the 23-year-old man arrived in Amsterdam with a friend to look for her son. The same afternoon she was called by her son from an unknown telephone number, shortly before a report was received by the police control room. They agreed to meet and did in fact meet briefly, but when her son saw a police officer he ran away. On the basis of a description of the man, the police officer recognised him as the man who had been reported missing by the other man the previous day.

The same day, at about 16:45 hours, the police control room received a report of a man walking with a knife in his hand in Poeldijkstraat in Amsterdam New West. The police realised that this report possibly related to the man who had been reported missing a day earlier by a friend. When two police officers found the man in question, they pursued him as he entered a courtyard without other exits on the Honselersdijkstraat.

During the pursuit, the man drew a knife out of a bag and made gestures of cutting his wrist. He did not respond to calls from the police officers to drop the knife. After having pepper spray sprayed in his face, he put the knife to his throat. The man did not respond to the police officers, who spoke to him in various languages, offered him help and ordered him to drop the knife. 

Numerous officers pointed their guns at the man in turn and tried to talk to him. This also failed to elicit a response. Despite the drawn firearms and calls to stand still and to drop his knife, the man began to walk slowly in the direction of the officers. It was no longer possible to wait for the negotiator, who had been summoned, so it was decided to deploy the police dog handler, who was already present. However, the dog walked past the man.

As the man still did not respond, the dog handler decided to intervene himself by dragging the man to the ground, after which various police officers came to their colleague’s assistance. While the man was on the ground and numerous police officers tried to overpower him, the man made waving and stabbing movements in the direction of the upper bodies and necks of three officers. One of the officers was struck on his vest by the knife. Following this, two officers fired shots almost simultaneously.

The investigation showed that the two police officers each fired two shots. The incident lasted approximately 15 minutes from the moment of entering the courtyard up to the firing of the shots.

Assessment of the evidence

The Public Prosecution Service has concluded that the use of their firearms by both officers was in accordance with the Police Act, which stipulates that police officers may use a firearm if their own safety or that of others is endangered. The Public Prosecution Service is of the opinion that the police officers are justified in appealing to self-defence. 

Ultimately, both police officers, who fired shots almost simultaneously, felt compelled to defend their colleagues from a man who kept waving a knife around wildly and stabbing. The dangerous situation that arose was such that it was necessary to shoot straight at the man to stop his dangerous behaviour. Several seconds elapsed between the moment that the man was dragged to the ground by the dog handler and the firing of the shots. In the light of the very threatening situation and the very short period there was no time left first to fire a warning shot.

At the time of the shooting, no other safe alternative presented itself. The confused, but also very fit man, who was possibly experiencing a drug-induced psychosis, had not responded to anything else—not to repeated calls, pepper spray, nor to the display of firearms. Nevertheless, he continued to charge the police officers with the knife.

All aspects considered, the Public Prosecution Service cannot reach any conclusion other than that both police officers acted in self-defence. This means that the police officers will not be prosecuted.

The Public Prosecution Service empathises with the parents, family members and friends of the man who died from the shots fired by the police. The Public Prosecution Service realises that the criminal investigation by the National Police Criminal Investigation Department does not answer all their questions. The Public Prosecution Service has offered to give the surviving relatives a further explanation of both the investigation and the decision not to proceed with prosecution in a personal meeting.