Bonn Bonn policeman Julian Rolf was fatally hit after shooting training – by a colleague’s bullet. Now Bonn regional court has handed down its verdict: the 23-year-old was given a suspended two year prison sentence.
Julian Rolf’s parents arrived early. They, whose son died at the age of 23 following a gunshot wound in the police headquarters, sat silently in the courtroom on the joint plaintiff’s still empty bench.
The mother tightly held a photo of her son in her hands. The father, also a police officer, kept wiping tears from his face. The parents had come to learn the truth about what really happened at the Bonn police headquarters. On 26 November 2018, the young policeman was shot in the neck with a service weapon by a 22-year-old colleague on his way to shooting training. Two weeks later, on 10 December, Julian Rolf died as a result of the serious injury.
On Monday, after three days of trial, the 4th Grand Criminal Chamber resolved the tragedy, at least in terms of criminal law. The 23-year-old shooter was sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. The sentence was suspended on condition Euro 3000 is paid to the NRW Police Foundation. “A complete explanation of the accident has not been possible,” said the chamber president, Klaus Reinhoff, right at the start. The defendant, who is no longer an officer, had given a version of events that could not be correct. Right to the end, the 23-year-old had asserted that the shooting was an accident. He had checked the Walther P99 again because it was apparently not secured in the holster. Then he was frightened by a noise that caused him to “unknowingly and by reflex” pull the trigger.
This version of events could not be refuted by objective evidence, according to the judgement. Neither the distance of the shot nor the location of the victim and shooter could be determined with certainty. But, said Reinhoff, the defendant’s testimony was a construction. “Within several minutes, he claims to have broken all the police rules he was trained to follow.” Above all, the most important rule: to always insert a weapon ready to fire in the holster. Instead he, a trained policeman described by his colleagues as “responsible” and who had never allowed himself to make a casual mistake, claims to have carelessly walked to shooting training with the weapon in one hand?
Public prosecutor Timo Henzel also had to resort to conjecture in his address: the prosecutor assumed that the shooter “playfully” pointed the weapon at his colleague and confused the red, non-functional training weapon with the black service weapon. “Out of a childlike urge to play, machismo or the re-enactment of a terror situation?” The prosecutor left the answer open. He had demanded a prison sentence of three years for the 23-year-old because of the severe negligence.
However, the Bonn judges also found this version of events barely plausible; why would he expose himself to criticism from colleagues for a “joke”? The chamber presented a third, deeply psychological scenario: it said that after several days of anti-terror training with his unit, the defendant could have believed on hearing the noise that, “it was a simulated attack, then he pulled the weapon out of the holster and pulled the trigger.”
At the end, Judge Reinhoff turned to Julian Rolf’s parents: “I’m sorry we couldn’t give them final certainty why their son had to die.
Original text: Ulrike Schödel. Translation: kc