MaltaToday | 18 May 2008 |

NEWS | Sunday, 18 May 2008

Police issued with pepper spray weeks before fatal Qormi shooting

Raphael Vassallo

A year after the fatal shooting of Bastjan Borg in Qormi on 4 May 2007, the Malta Police Force confirmed that all its serving members had been issued with pepper spray – described by police sources as “a non-lethal personal protection product” – up to two months beforehand.
However, because of the ongoing magisterial inquiry, it is not known whether the three officers involved in the shooting were among those who were authorised to carry a canister of pepper spray on their person.
“By means of internal memo dated 20 February 2007, it was announced that pepper spray was to be distributed as a personal issue to all serving members of the Malta Police Force,” the police told MaltaToday. “Since then, ad hoc training in its use, and the procedures to be followed, was undertaken at the Police Academy. Those members of the Force successful in such training are then authorised to carry the canister of pepper spray during their tour of duty.”
Bastjan Borg, 52, a former patient at Monte Carmeli Hospital, was shot dead by three police officers after he was reported disturbing the peace in a public place, damaging private vehicles, and threatening passers-by with a pen-knife. The autopsy later established that he died as a result of five bullet wounds: three in the chest, one in the shoulder and another in the forehead. Borg’s family claimed that he was known to the police to be suffering from mental problems, and had written to warn of possible trouble if he was discharged from the asylum. The day after the shooting, Police Commissioner John Rizzo addressed a press conference in which he defended the police action that resulted in Borg’s death, claiming that the officers involved had acted “in the course of their duty”.
Rizzo also revealed that Bastjan Borg had already had a run-in with the police 15 years earlier, when he had injured a policeman with a pointed instrument.
No mention was made of the availability or otherwise of pepper spray during the briefing. In fact, the distribution of pepper spray among the police was not made public at all, and only emerged last week thanks to a report by the United States agency OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council), aimed at advising American citizens on holiday overseas.
MaltaToday’s questions regarding the availability of pepper spray in May 2007 meanwhile returned the following answer:
“The Corps is fully confident in the magisterial inquiry which will ascertain the facts in this case, and would be pleased to see the inquiry concluded in the shortest time possible. Since this inquiry is ongoing, no further comment would be appropriate.”

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