Murder-plank. Who invented crazy explanation for jail inmate’s death and why?
Two senior officers of the Orsk pre-trial detention center (SIZO) No. 2 in the Orenburg region were arrested this summer. They are suspected of committing murder in 2013. Why did it take so long to investigate it? Why did an investigator refused to open a criminal case six times? What does prison staff not say? The CrimeRussia could not help but take a thorough look at this shady situation. Let us try and find answers to some questions.
4 years ago
24-year-old Vladimir Tkachuk died in the SIZO No. 2 in September 2013. He had been sent there from the Prison Camp No. 11 as a laborer. Tkachuk was going to try and get parole in a month. There was an attempt to pass his death off as an accident and claim he died due to an industrial injury. And it would have worked if not for a phone call. An unidentified person called Nadezhda Chertovskikh, the victim’s mother, on September 5, 2013. He shared details of what had happened. The man told her Tkachuk was beaten to death…by SIZO No. 2 staff. The unidentified person also offered insight into a story he claimed would be pushed by intelligence agencies, namely that Tkachuk was hit by a big falling plank. That would be the ‘official’ narrative, he claimed. This would prove to be extraordinarily accurate.
Nadezhda Chertovskikh told Ural56.ru, a local media outlet, about the mysterious call: “He did tell me how Volodka [Vladimir] was killed. He told me four people held him by his hands and legs while one Simonenko stomped his head. However, no one knows whether those were SIZO No. 2 employees or inmates. Investigators did not believe me when I told them that. They even subjected me to a polygraph test and a psycholinguistic examination. I passed them with flying colors and proved I did not dream up the call.”
24-year-old Vladimir Tkachuk was beaten to death
The victim’s mother immediately contacted the Trans-Regional NGO Committee Against Tortures and asked for help; the NGO delved into it.
Searching for the truth
SIZO No. 2 staff insisted Tkachuk suffered an industrial injury on September 2. He was put in a punishment cell for a disciplinary violation; Tkachuk refused– or maybe simply was not able? – to get up when ordered to hit the deck. Tkachuk was complaining he felt very ill and asking for medical help the whole time, according to eyewitnesses. However, he was not administered medical attention on time. He was delirious and did not understand where he was in his last hours. Tkachuk had already been in coma when doctors arrived. They pronounced him dead a couple of hours later.
Now, let us take a closer look at the injury that was the reason the criminal case was only opened half a year later. Anastasiya Chichina, an investigator of the ICR Orsk Investigations Directorate in the Orenburg region refused to open it 6 times over the half a year period. Her official decisions not to open the case following human rights activists’ complaints were later deemed illegal. Investigator Chichina believed Tkachuk’s numerous injuries were caused by the plank.
“Tkachuk V.I.’s closed brain injury nature suggests it was due to repeated blunt-force trauma. The forehead, parietal bone, temples, and occipital bone suffered the most damage”, as later discovered by a specialist of the Main Federal Forensic Center No. 111 of the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The plank would have to fall several times to cause such injuries. However, investigator Chichina was not taken aback by that. It is worth mentioning that the investigator has never seen this particular piece of evidence, namely the ‘murder-plank’. She simply put trust in a SIZO No. 2 employees’s words.
SIZO No. 2 in Orsk, Orenburg region
Tkachuk’s mother visited him not long before his death. She insists he was in good health: “He was 6’5”, how could a plank kill him? I was shocked when I saw his body. He was covered in bruises. Pardon my language, but even his genitals were bruised.”
Committee Against Tortures lawyer Timur Rakhmatulin representing the victim’s mother in court told the CrimeRussia the human rights defenders managed to get investigator Chichina recused. She was later dismissed from the committee.
Things have been put in motion. Bad cop/bad cop
However, nothing really changed even after the criminal case was opened. The investigation remained fruitless for 2.5 years. There still was 1 victim, 0 defendants, and 0 suspects (besides the ‘murder-plank’).
Such lack of results was due to the criminals’ actions, according to lawyer Timur Rakhmatulin. The investigators did not want to prosecute “their people”. The SIZO No. 2 Administration simply would not have covered up for inmates if they had been the ones who killed Vladimir. SIZO No. 2 did their best no obstruct justice: they did not produce all CCTV footage showing Tkachuk’s last days; ‘lost’ all documents regarding all inmates who witnessed Tkachuk’s agony of death in a punishment cell being put into punishment cells; forged numerous documents.
“There are 2 inmates who saw Tkachuk being beaten. They received death threats. They have been beaten, too,” Rakhmatulin told the CrimeRussia.
The investigators’ lack of action, initiative, and desire to acknowledge the obvious forced the human rights activists to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the victim’s mother in May 2016.
The European Court’s involvement got the investigation off the ground. It contacted Russian authorities regarding the complaint and requested information on the circumstances surrounding Tkachuk’s death and efficiency of the federal investigation. An internal inspection yielded results; SIZO No.2 Acting Warden Evgeny Shnayder and Head of SIZO No. 2 Investigation Department Vitaly Simonenko were arrested half a year later, on June 7, 2017.
Acting Warden of the pre-trial detention center No. 2 Evgeny Shnayder
Shnayder immediately pleaded guilty to violation of article 286, part 3, item ‘a’ (Exceeding Official Powers with the Use of Violence) of the Russian Criminal Code. Shnayder hit inmate Victor Tkachuk’s hands and chest several times. The former SIZO No. 2 employee has been put under house arrest.
However, the Committee Against Tortures believes SIZO No. 2 Investigation Department Head Vitaly Simonenko is the main culprit for Tkachuk’s beating and subsequent death. He has been charged with Exceeding Official Powers with the Use of Violence and Intentional Infliction of a Grave Injury which have Involved the Death of the Victim by Negligence. Simonenko has been put in jail.
Lawyer of the Committee Against Tortures Timur Rakhmatulin
“Moreover, the two eyewitness-inmates that had received death threats began testifying during the hearing. There are classified eyewitnesses even we do not know of, too. They may be other SIZO No. 2 staffers who saw Tkachuk being beaten, judging from their testimonies,” Rakhmatulin said
Why beating the inmate? Mother shares her guesses
Nadezhda Chertovskikh firmly believes her son was beaten for having refused to cooperate with the police. Staff of the Guberlya village Prison Camp No. 11 where Tkachuk had been serving his sentence for robbery since 2009 wanted him to plant drugs on another inmate in exchange for getting parole, according to the victim’s mother. Vladimir Tkachuk was to serve his sentence on April 11, 2016. Tkachuk refused and told about it to his mother during one of her visits.
Deputy Warden of the Prison Camp No. 11 Marat Kumarov visited SIZO No. 2 soon after the inmate had been transferred there. He offered Tkachuk snitching on other inmates for stealing. Tkachuk refused the offer once again, according to his mother.
Prison Camp No. 11 Warden Filyus Khusainov
That was not the first time Prison Camp No. 11 staff abused power in such a manner. For example, 2 inmates reported Prison Camp No. 11 staff for violent behavior in 2013. Prison Camp No. 11 Warden Filyus Khusainov and his Deputy Marat Kumarov ordered one set of inmates to punish another set of inmates by beating and sexually abusing them. The Prison Camp No. 11 staff would often be present during such punishment and even record it. They would later show such footage to other inmates to instill fear in them. In 2017, Khusainov was sentenced to 7 years in medium-security prison for these hideous atrocities while Kumarov was given a 5.5-year custodial sentence.
“Evgeny Shnayder ordered the officer on duty to ignore the request to call an ambulance”
Meanwhile, hearings of the high-profile case have began in the Sovetsky District Court. Two important prosecution witnesses have been brought before the court, namely the head of the pre-trial detention center's medical unit and a safety enginee.
During the hearing, doctor Larisa Gaevskaya, the head of the medical unit of SIZO No. 2, said that she had learned about Vladimir Tkachuk's poor physical condition from a telephone conversation with nurse Marina Utkina, who took over the night duty on September 4. She received the call to her mobile phone after 22 pm, when she was returning from work by car. The nurse asked for advice due to being worried about Tkachuk's condition. Marina Utkina called again already about midnight. She said the officer on duty had ignored her request to call an ambulance on the order of Evgeny Shnayder. When asked by lawyer of the Committee Against Tortures Vyacheslav Dyundin why she had not gone to the SIZO right away, she said she had not been duty-bound to do so.
Witness Galina Yudina, a safety engineer in the pre-trial detention center, explained that if Vladimir Tkachuk had really been injured at work, the prison employees would have had to involve her in the internal check as responsible for the state of security in the workplace, but she was not even informed about the situation. This testimony refute the version with an accident.
However, even the defendants themselves recognized the falsity of this version back during the preliminary investigation.