Police Face Potential Charges in Killing of US-Greek Activist

Police officers in Athens who were videotaped physically assaulting American-born LGBTQ and HIV activist and performer Zak Kostopoulos will face questioning on charges of inflicting fatal bodily harm in court on Dec. 12, following an extension Monday, local Greek media reported.

Kostopoulos, 33, died Friday, Sept. 21 after he entered the store and was attacked by the owner and another shopkeeper who told authorities they believed he was trying to rob the store. The men kicked Kostopoulos in the head and body even while he crawled out of the store trying to flee. When police got to the scene, four were taped hitting the motionless Kostopoulos.

The officers claimed that they acted in line with police protocol since they were called to arrest a robber.

The owner of the store as well as another storeowner have been charged with inflicting lethal harm resulting in death and causing grievous bodily harm.

An autopsy found that Kostopoulos suffered a heart attack due to blunt force trauma attributed to the attack, Kathimerini reported.

The shop owners claimed Kostopoulos entered the store seemingly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, a witness said the activist went to the jewelry store after he was being threatened at a nearby cafe. The autopsy report did not find any trace of drugs in Kostopoulos’ system, only a small trace of alcohol.

His family has asked the Athens court to up the charges against the shopkeepers to first-degree murder, according to Kathimerini. The family also plans to sue the ambulance company and the police over their responses. They say that police and the media tried to portray Kostopoulos as a drug addict — on top of the police officers recorded beating the activist.

The report “throws light on the case, and is a powerful rebuttal overall suspicions of a cover-up, over bigotry and over efforts to defame a man who is no longer alive. Justice will prevail,” Citizen Protection Minister Olga Gerovassili told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.

Since the release of the coroner’s report, police have reopened the case.

The video of the attack on Kostopoulos circulated online shortly after his death and seems to show Kostopoulos attempting to break the glass door of the jewelry store on Gladstonos Street, close to Omonia Square, with a fire extinguisher. After he manages to shatter part of it, the video shows him trying to crawl out while the shop owners are inside kicking him.

When Kostopoulos is able to leave the store, he is shown lying on the ground while people gather around him. He eventually staggers away only for the police to roughly handcuff him and hit him. He’s then whisked away on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the hospital where he was announced dead.

The investigation surrounding the incident has been criticized. “There does not seem to have been any active search for witnesses by the police – it is only some friends of the victim who are looking for them and are trying to convince them to come forward,” Anny Paparroussou, the Kostopoulos family lawyer, told Open Democracy while criticizing the lack of proper investigating by authorities after Kostopoulos’ killing.

The outlet reports that several Greek organizations have petitioned the Ombudsman’s office to intervene to ensure a proper internal inquest of the police officers seen beating Kostopoulos.

In Australia earlier this month, protesters attempted to enter the Greek consulate in Melbourne calling for a thorough investigation into the activists’ death.

“Despite the CCTV footage exposing major flaws in their story, the Greek police with the assistance of the news media still persisted in trying to portray Zak’s attackers as helpless store owners trying to protect their property and to frame Zak as a violent, drug-addicted thief, therefore deserving of his death,” the group said in a statement, according to Gay Star News.

“We are calling all relevant Greek authorities for an independent and impartial investigation that takes into consideration the motivation of the perpetrators,” the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organization (IGLYO) said in a statement before they organized a protest in Belgium.

Amnesty International condemned the homophobia surrounding Kostoupolous’ death. In a statement, Amnesty said, “the way the public debate after the shocking incident has been conducted in many cases, marks a flagrant violation of the rights of vulnerable social groups.”

Kostoupolous, also known as the drag performer Zackie Oh, had been involved in Greek LGBTQ rights groups and had come out as HIV-positive, working to educate others on what it meant to live with HIV.

Image via Facebook


Alex Cooper

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