Police Sergeant David Sant, 46, was yesterday jailed for four months for the assault of Catherine Sophie Pernot Sprangers and slightly injuring her when he kicked her in the chest.
The assault became the week’s sensation when MaltaToday Midweek published the stills from the exclusive footage of Sant kicking the French resident in her car, leading to the police officer’s arraignment in court.
The incident, which occurred on 10 May outside the Bay Street mall in Paceville, was witnessed by onlookers and the footage, available on the MaltaToday website, found its way on You Tube within just days, attracting its fair share of comments from shocked viewers.
In the four-minute video clip, taken from a balcony of an apartment on St George’s Road, St Julians, Sant is seen planted in the way of the agitated lady, who is trying to shut her car’s door. The French lady had attracted police attention by hooting repeatedly at a coach which had blocked the road. A few seconds into the video, Sant is seen reacting to the lady’s attempts to grapple with him by lifting his knee into her chest.
After the lady’s second attempt to remove the policeman from his position – by grasping him by his trouser pockets – Sant violently reacted by kneeing the lady in her upper torso and neck, and then forcefully pushing her away with his arm.
Visibly stunned, the woman slumped bodily onto the passenger seat and lay there motionless for at least three minutes.
Prosecuting inspectors yesterday recounted the events of the attack after Magistrate Silvio Meli watched the DVD which captured the assault as it took place in Paceville on 10 May. Sprangers, who was present in the courtroom, refused to watch the DVD.
Taking the stand, sergeant David Sant said that on May 10 he was informed that a trailer had collided into the Bay Street bridge and he went there with two police constables.
Realising that a coach was blocking the road, he decided to get the cars stuck behind the coach to reverse back up the road. Amongst the cars in the traffic there was the car driven by Sprangers, who refused to reverse and kept honking her horn repeatedly.
Sant claimed Sprangers scratched his arm when he went up to her car and inserted his hand to stop her from hooting. After the coach drove on, he decided to arrest Sprangers for disobeying his orders and contacted a woman constable. In a bid not to let Sprangers leave until the female constable arrived, he opened the door of her car, at which point Sant said she went “hysterical”.
“I had been hit by her several times and, without wanting to, I raised my arm and knee together. I pushed her with my hand but also hit her with my knee… I did it to defend myself,” Sant said.
He then called for an ambulance. Eventually Sprangers was convinced to move her car to the side of the road to allow the traffic to flow. Soon after she drove off. Sant then went to the police station and compiled a report of what had happened, as well as getting his injuries certified.
Members of the ambulance team who came on the scene told the Court yesterday that there were evident communication problems with Sprangers, who cannot speak English or Maltese, and that she refused medical attention. They also said they had not been told by the sergeant what had led to her condition.
Sprangers told the Court she left the scene because she was very shocked and scared, wanting to leave the site as fast as possible. She described David Sant as having been “nervous and authoritative” in the way he dealt with her.
She also said that Sant took her packet of cigarettes away from her as she tried lighting up, which is when he opened her car door to prevent her from driving off. It was at that point that she started grappling at his pockets.
She denied having made rude gestures to the police sergeant or telling him “f*** the police”, a claim made by Sant’s defence lawyer Dr Jason Azzopardi.
Sprangers drove off to a meeting in Birkirkara straight after the incident, but said she started feeling a pain in her chest and had to be taken home soon after. The next day she visited Dr John Gauci, who told the court that Sprangers had suffered a contusion owing to the slight injury she had suffered, and prescribed her painkillers.
After hearing the evidence, Magistrate Silvio Meli took note of two points raised by the defence, namely that Sant had been under physical and mental strain since being scratched by another woman who was Hepatitis-C positive, three days before the Paceville incident, in a bid to prevent her from committing suicide.
Initial results from medical tests to check if he had contracted the disease showed that he was clean, but he had to go through more tests within six months.
Sant also said he had recently performed a bypass surgery, had stopped smoking and was more nervous than usual.
He said that although there was no denying the content of the footage, he said that there were essential missing details. “I’m not contesting that I hit her… That day I went there to help with the aim of opening the road to traffic. I never dreamt or intended to hurt anyone…. I’ve been in the force for 20 years and never wanted to taint the reputation of the police force. I’m very sorry about that happened.”
Dr Meli noted that Sant’s superiors should have taken his strain into consideration before assigning him to certain jobs. He also noted that after spending 20 years in the force, 12 of which were at the SAG, he was trained to act in such circumstances and therefore it was not right to say he acted out of provocation.
Noting that Sant was sorry for his actions, Magistrate Silvio Meli said that as a police officer it was his duty to ensure public order, and sentenced him to four months in jail.
Sant’s lawyers gave notice that he was planning to appeal against the judgement.