According to police reports, Budakçı was found lifeless in his police cell on Saturday, July 9, after he hanged himself with a bed sheet while being detained at the Handen police station in Haninge. He later died at the hospital.
But Budakçı's mother and sister told Today's Zaman in exclusive interviews on Friday that they believe the police are covering up much of what happened that day last summer. “The police won't cooperate with us,” Budakçı's sister Selda Budakçı said. “They won't talk to us, and they won't answer our questions. They won't even give us my brother's belongings,” she said.
Because the Södertörn Precinct refused the request to study their materials, including Budakçı's statements at the time of his arrest, for “security reasons,” many questions remain left unanswered, the family said.
Mattias Bernhardsson, civil attorney for Budakçı's family and city counselor for the Socialist Justice Party in Haninge, opened an investigation into the case back in July. He and the family pointed to the autopsy as an example of claims that simply do not add up.
Police reports found “no visible injuries,” but Bernhardsson told Today’s Zaman the National Board of Forensic Medicine report and photographs from the forensic autopsy present a quite different picture. According to the external examination, there was swelling and a 3-centimeter scab on the crown of Budakçı’s head and bruises and scabs near his left eye and leg.
Bernhardsson, who studied the reports, said the medical examiner’s report explains Budakçı’s broken ribs but not the rest of the injuries on his body. “The medical examiner’s report concludes that the broken ribs came from resuscitation efforts, but not the injuries to the back of the head and face, or the bruises on the legs,” he said.
According to the report, the swelling, abrasions and bruises “indicate they were caused by non-specific blunt force trauma, by estimate within a few days prior to death.”
“The police must explain why, in the detention report, it states that Burdakçı had no visible injuries,” Bernhardsson said.
“We believe they psychologically and physically abused him. For 23 hours, my brother did not eat or sleep. And when he called us from the police station, he told us they had beaten him over the head with a stick,” Selda Budakçı said.
His mother, Zöhre Dudakci Budakçı, described her last conversation with her son as a heart-breaking one: “He told me he had been arrested and beaten on the head by the police, but he didn’t know why. He was really upset and kept asking, ‘Why am I here?’”
But Bernhardsson said no one can be sure who inflicted the injuries until the police release the materials they have requested. “Questions on whether it was the bus driver, the police, or someone else who inflicted these injuries on Burdakçı cannot be answered without the material the police refused to let us study,” he said. “But regardless of who it was, the autopsy shows that he was hit on the back of the head from behind,” Bernhardsson said.
Arrested for splashing water
Questions abound concerning Budakçı’s arrest as well.
According to Bernhardsson, Burdakçı was apprehended at 8:42 p.m. on July 8 after a conflict with a bus driver in downtown Handen and was taken into custody at 9:10 p.m. He was booked at 12:16 a.m. on July 9 by the district prosecutor.
But the family’s civil attorney said he has not been able to figure out the reasons for the arrest.
Burdakçı’s family said the young man and a bus driver got into a dispute over a bus pass. Burdakçı reportedly threw water on the driver and said, “You need to chill out.” The bus driver, who was much larger than Burdakçı, allegedly held the Turkish immigrant until police came.
Burdakçı’s mother and sister said they have tried to take the necessary legal action, but no attorney will accept their case. “They all say it is either too expensive, too much work or will take up too much time,” Zöhre Dudakci Budakçı said.
But the family and Bernhardsson said they are not giving up. Burdakcı’s mother has made several recent media appearances, and Bernhardsson is holding an open meeting to share information on the case in Haninge on Sunday.
Following the meeting, participants will hold a demonstration in front of the police station where Budakçı died to demand police re-open an internal investigation and bring forth all documents immediately.
Internal investigations of misconduct ended only four days after the incident, according to Bernhardsson, and the police concluded no one was at fault. “We want the police to put things straight. If you knew my brother, you knew he was a happy, funny person. He was not unstable or suicidal,” Selda Budakçı said.
“The secretiveness of the police and the treatment of Sercan’s family can only mean they are trying to wash their hands of responsibility. A completely open investigation could have shown -- apart from the obvious shortcomings in the lockup and supervision -- that Sercan shouldn’t even have been apprehended, or at least taken into custody and isolated in a cell for such a long time,” Bernhardsson said.
Dangerous trend of suspicious deaths
In August 2009, Mikail Tekin, 31, died in the prison of Jamioulx in Charleroi, Belgium, a day after he was arrested for arguing with a police officer. According to the guards’ statements he choked to death while eating, but the autopsy report indicated Tekin died from “physical violence.” Fellow prisoners claim he was tortured during the transfer to an isolation cell. The case is still pending.
Another suspicious death while under police custody took place in the Netherlands last July. İhsan Gürz, 22, was arrested by the Dutch police after a conflict in a cafeteria. His family and friends say his death was caused by police brutality, while Dutch officials claim the young man died of a heart attack. Initially, only a local newspaper reported the case. However, Dutch newspapers started including stories on Gürz’s death after Today’s Zaman and other Turkish newspapers covered it.