Brennan Awaiting Justice

In the investigation of VIS teacher Mike Brennan, many still fear a cover up

News | Colin Leigh Peters | April 2009

Six weeks have passed since two plain-clothes officers of Vienna’s Einsatzgruppe Strassenkriminalität (Taskforce Street Crime) mistook Vienna International School teacher Mike Brennan for a cocaine dealer. The officers jumped him without warning as he stepped off the underground U6 in Spittelau, alleges Brennan, beating him repeatedly as they pinned him to the ground, leaving him in need of hospital treatment. Brennan has only now just begun to move around again without the aid of crutches.

"I’m still weak and slow, but it’s much more comfortable like this," he says, reaching out with his hands to steady himself as he slowly takes a seat in the coffee house where we meet. He is undergoing physiotherapy several times a week and is not expected to resume work before the end of April.

As reported in The Vienna Review online edition at the beginning of March, the injuries Brennan sustained that afternoon turned out – after repeated examination – to be worse than physicians had originally assumed. Not one, but two, of Brennan’s vertebrae have hairline fractures, caused by what Brennan holds were multiple kicks and punches. The officers, on the other hand, say they attempted to bring Brennan to the ground after he failed to heed a call to stop and ducked, and appeared to be about to flee.

In light of the fractures, doctors have changed their diagnosis from mere "swelling" to something much more serious – a change that could ultimately prove decisive in the investigation and, ironically, beneficial for Mike Brennan’s case.

Due to concerns about the independence of the investigators, about the lack of eye-witnesses to the incident, and about mysterious claims that Brennan was not even injured, many feared (and still do) that the investigation will result in an attempt by the authorities to exonerate their officers while brushing another act of institutional racism and police brutality under the carpet.

The claim that Brennan wasn’t really injured – a witness at the hospital who claimed that Brennan only used crutches in the presence of the media and was in fact perfectly fit and healthy – has now been laid to rest, refuted by the two broken bones in Brennan’s back. The statement is now inadmissible. However, the fact that this witness was allowed to come forward at all, and give such testimony anonymously, is perhaps an indicator of how the case was being dealt with from the start. Such anonymity is usually reserved for those who endanger themselves through speaking out.

The other concerns, however, still exist.

To ensure the independence of the investigation, Brennan’s file was originally sent to the Public Prosecutors Office in Korneuburg to ensure that authorities outside Vienna would handle it. However, the investigation into the two police officers has since been sent back to Vienna’s Büro für Besondere Ermittlungen (Office for Special Investigations), which is essentially a branch of the Viennese police.

Thus, the police are now investigating the police.

"In a normal situation, that’s something that wouldn’t be thought of as good," says Brennan, when asked how he feels about his case being handled like this.

And six weeks after the incident, no further witnesses have surfaced. Only two people have come forward as eyewitnesses to an event that apparently took place on a busy platform: One is a woman who was travelling in the same train as Brennan and was disturbed enough by what she saw to travel back from Heiligenstadt to Spittelau. The other is a man who came forward at the beginning of March. His testimony is as of yet unknown to the public.

This shortage of witnesses itself leaves some open questions. For example, Brennan says that the train he had travelled in remained at the station during the whole incident, which lasted several minutes. Trains at Spittelau normally stop for about 20 seconds, so it could be assumed that the driver noticed something on the two big screens that sit before the train’s front window – screens that are fed by two cameras that give a clear view of the entire platform – leading him or her to decide not to pull away.

What did the driver see? How could he or she not have seen something?

"And there was a camera looking right down at me," says Brennan. "If that was working, everything would have been seen as plain as day."

And if the closed circuit surveillance wasn’t recorded – as has since been claimed – what was then being done with it? Was it being watched? If so, by whom, and what did they see?

The issue of actual surveillance footage is already something that raised eyebrows. Colleagues of Brennan had called the Wiener Linien after the event to request any recordings, and were told there would not be a problem, as the footage is stored for 48 hours.

"Then the next day when we went to the police station, while I was filling out my report, we asked about the tapes and were told that no, they only record for 24 hours. And this was about 3:30 pm, and the incident happened at 2:30 pm the previous day," says Brennan. "We felt we were being given the run around."

Wiener Linien would later confirm that the surveillance system at Spittelau only supports a limited capacity to record.

"And there were cameras on the train, I think. As far as I know the trains on the U4 have those cameras on the top, or most of them anyway," adds Brennan.

Brennan has not been given a clear indication of how long the investigation will take. He was recently visited by an independent doctor from the prosecutor’s office, who conducted a thorough examination. Now, he simply has to wait.

So, what would justice look like to Mike Brennan?

"An apology, and that they admit what they did," replies Brennan "Otherwise that they’re found guilty for what they did. I want these guys to be held responsible. They can’t bring back the days I’ve lost in my life. They can’t replace the time, and I don’t know if they realise that. I can’t do anything, but they can do everything. I can’t go running or go for a walk or anything. A lot of stuff has been taken away."

Brennan is fully aware of the importance of the case and is adamant he will see it through ‘til the end. "If this is the last time this happens, then great. But I really don’t think this will be the last time."

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  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review April 2009