STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Three Swedish policemen were cleared on Thursday of shooting dead a 20-year-old man with Down’s syndrome and autism who had sneaked out of his home in the middle of the night to play with a toy pistol, a Stockholm court said.
Eric Torell’s death last August caused a public outcry and raised questions over the use of deadly force by the police.
The officers fired 25 shots at Torell, who had the mental age of a three-year-old, believing the toy was a real weapon.
Torell was hit three times. Two of the shots, including the one that killed him, hit him in the back.
Two of the officers were charged with misconduct and the third with causing another person’s death. The prosecutor had asked for a fine for the two officers and a suspended sentence and a fine for the officer charged with killing Torell.
The policemen had denied wrongdoing.
The court said in a statement the policemen believed they were in severe danger and it could not be determined in which order the shots had hit the man, or his pattern of movement.
“All-in-all the prosecutor has not disproved the argument of perceived self-defense and the violence used is not considered manifestly unjustifiable,” the court said in a statement.
The prosecutor acknowledged during the trial that the policemen had been within their right to open fire but that they should have stopped once Torell turned his back on them.
The prosecutor said in a statement he had not yet decided whether to appeal against the verdict.
The defense team had called a stress expert as a witness to argue that the situation was so stressful that the policemen should not be found guilty.
Despite the outcry at the time of the shooting, there was little reaction to the verdict in a country that has no organized anti-gun lobby and a traditional faith in the role of the authorities.
Swedish police, who are routinely armed, have shot dead an average of one person per year over the past 20 years, according to police statistics.
But numbers have been increasing, with six people shot dead in 2018 and an average of 3.2 over the past five years.
In the United States, 992 people were shot dead by police in 2018, according to the Washington Post’s database. The population of the United States is about 330 million compared with Sweden’s 10 million.
Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Alison Williams