Rome: Italian newspapers published a photo of a bound and blindfolded American teenager accused of killing an Italian police officer, rocking the murder case and sparking a police probe of their own officers’ actions.
Front pages of Italian newspapers carried the photo, which shows Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth, 18, sitting in an office chair, his hands bound behind him and a blue cloth tied around his slumped head, covering his eyes.
Two uniformed police officers stand near the teenager, who is wearing shorts and a blue-and-white striped collared dress shirt.
The photo was identified as being taken at a Rome barracks of the Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police, where he and another teen suspect had been taken for questioning on Friday in the stabbing death of an officer in a drug-related sting gone wrong.
National newspaper Corriere della Sera compared the photo to those of prisoners at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Deprived of liberty and before being heard by a judge, he’s (suspect Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth, 18) turned into a trophy.
Other papers decried it as a “shock” photo. “Deprived of liberty and before being heard by a judge, he’s turned into a trophy,” a column in La Repubblica said on Sunday.
The police force acted quickly to denounce the photo and announce a probe.
“This is an unacceptable episode and should be treated as such,” Carabinieri Commander General Giovanni Nistri told Corriere. The officer who blindfolded the teenager would be transferred from operational duty, Ansa news agency reported.
But Vice Premier Matteo Salvini, who oversees a separate national police force in his role as interior minister, dismissed the outrage.
“To those who lament the blindfolding of a prisoner, I remind them that the only victim to cry for is a man, a son and a 35-year-old husband,” he said in a tweet on Sunday “a policeman who served the fatherland, who died on duty at the hand of someone, who if guilty, only deserves jail for life. At labour.”
The case began the night of July 25, when an apparent dispute over a drug deal led to the theft of a backpack, allegedly by the two American teens, according to police.
The owner of the backpack alerted police that the young men wanted €100 ($111, Dh408.5) and a gram of cocaine in exchange for giving back the bag, which also contained a cell phone, police said.
When undercover Carabinieri arrived at the planned hand-off near the Vatican early on Friday morning, a fight broke out in which an officer, Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed to death.
Police later arrested the teenagers at a nearby hotel, where they said they found a knife hidden above ceiling panels and the clothes worn during the incident.
Following their interrogations, the Carabinieri said Saturday that the men had confessed and were being held for murder and extortion. They were identified as Natale Hjorth and Finnegan Lee Elder, 19.
The two were high school classmates in Mill Valley, California, a suburb near San Francisco, the Associated Press reported. While Elder is the one whom police allege committed the stabbing, both he and his alleged accomplice face identical charges at the moment.
Elder’s lawyer, Francesco Codini, told the New York Times that the two teens availed themselves of the right to remain silent during a court hearing Saturday.
The lawyer declined to comment on the reported confession, according to the Times, which said a lawyer for the other suspect couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.