Court decides no autopsy for police victim

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Court decides no autopsy for police victim

A local court on Monday turned down a police request to conduct an autopsy on a farmer who died following months of hospitalization after he was knocked down by a riot police water cannon in November.

Baek, a 69-year-old farmer from Boseong, South Jeolla, died on Sunday after more than 300 days of treatment at a hospital after being shot by a water cannon at an antigovernment rally on Nov. 14, 2015. He lost consciousness before being taken to a nearby hospital for a brain hemorrhage. He received brain surgery but did not regain consciousness.

Shortly after he died, the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office applied for warrants to conduct an autopsy and obtain his medical records. The Seoul Central District Court rejected the autopsy request, but granted permission to obtain Baek’s medical records. The court did not elaborate on why it rejected the autopsy request.

After being hospitalized in a coma for 317 days, Baek was pronounced dead on Sunday by the Seoul National University Hospital. The hospital staff said he died of cardiac arrest following renal failure.

After the court’s rejection, police said they will consult with the prosecution to decide whether they will reapply for the warrant.

Lee Chul-sung, commissioner-general of the National Police Agency, said Baek’s surviving family should attend the autopsy to guarantee the transparency of the process. “We have no other intention,” he said. “Forensic medicine is not a field where subjectivity can intervene.”

Lee also said police will conduct the autopsy, if the court issues a warrant, even if the victim’s family opposes the decision. He also issued an apology in a private capacity, saying, “I feel extremely sorry for Baek’s death. It took place during the course of suppressing an illegal, violent rally, but I still think it’s extremely sad that we lost a precious life.”

Hundreds of mourners gathered on Sunday night in front of Seoul National University Hospital funeral center where Baek’s funeral was held. Tensions mounted as about 3,600 police troops were dispatched to the hospital and nearby areas on Saturday afternoon. After the court dismissed the autopsy warrant request on Monday, police withdrew most of their forces, while leaving about 450 to guard the funeral center.

BY SER MYO-JA, ESTHER CHUNG [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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