Where 0.1% of legal acquittals come from. "47 news", 23 July 2017
Judge Antonenko from Lomonosov passed a rare decision . He acquitted a 100% pointsman - a railway brigade-leader. Workers started working on the rails without his permission and they didn't hear a train and died. 47news looked at the case even from the train driver's cab and realized that the investigator and the Public Prosecutor would be punished.
On 18 July the Lomonosov town court found Sergey Napalkov, a 42-year-old resident of the village of Pudomyagy, born in the village of Poplevino of the Ryazan region, not guilty. He was charged with breaking work safety regulations that "caused death of two or more people due to carelessness". On the 26th August 2016 on the 54th railway kilometer between the stations Bolshaya Izhora and Lebyazhye two workers from his brigade were knocked down by a local electric train and died. Investigation was carried out by the Transport Investigation Committee. The Public Prosecutor from the Transport Prosecutor's Office approved the indictment and sanctioned bringing the case in court. Judge Andrey Antonenko was not impressed by their processual decisions.
In order to realize the exceptional nature of this decision, let's pay attention to the fact that more than 13 thousand criminal cases against 14 thousand citizens were brought in Petersburg courts of justice last year. Only 19 people out of them were acquitted, i. e. a bit more than 0.1%. In 2015 the number was the same - informed Chairperson of the Saint-Petersburg City Court of Justice Valentina Yepifanova in her final report. There is no such statistics on the Leningrad Region in public domain, but the situation is likely to be very similar. Less than 1% is acquitted in Russia.
That morning road master of the company sub-contractor CLL"STR" of the RRW Navalkov drove off to his work place in his car. But he realized that he had forgotten spare parts. So, he had to return. He made a couple of phone calls, informed members of his brigade that he would be late for an hour and a half, discussed the work volume, but didn't give permission to start work. It is important to note that although the work was of the same type,- fixing bolts - according to the prosecution, Napalkov had to carry out instructions with the signature of each worker in the register before the start of the work. But "STR" director-general Dmitry Kukhar claimed on the trial that work instructions had to be carried out not more often than once a week.
Anyway, fitters Igor Barbenyuk and Andrey Vishnyakov started work without the brigade-leader. In such a work a noisy petrol nutdriver is used. Most likely, the workers didn't notice the train because of that. The railway was curved in that place and the train appeared around the corner, that could contribute to the situation. Both workers died on the spot. Reading a medical expert's conclusion about the injuries is really traumatic. In his indictment the investigator of the Transport IC made a legal claim out of the tragedy: "Being in charge of the safety work regulations observance Navalkov acted in a way that led to breaking of those regulations, for he neglected his professional duties and did not foresee dangerous consequences ... such as death of two or more people".
During the investigation five fixers working with the dead workers confirmed that they had started working without the master's permission. Moreover, nobody acted as the so called signalperson to warn colleagues about the approaching train. And it is crucial in safety terms.
The mother of one of the dead said during the trial that her son had told her there had been cases when repair workers had to jump off the rails at the very last moment. The son of the dead remembered his father's words that lack of signalpeople had been a norm. The widow of the second dead said that he had told her several times that nothing could be heard because of the tremendous noise produced by the nutdriver. By the way, leadership of the "STR" company failed to explain how regularly signalpeople had been used and blamed the master, although signalpeople should exist as members of the staff.
Train driver "Petersburg - Kalische" Dmitry Panov told investigators that before the departure from the Baltic Station he had been informed about repairs on the part of the railway from the 51st to the 60th kilometer. He had to move not faster than 100 km/hour. After departure from the station Bolshaya Izhora he speeded up to 90 km/hour and gave a sound signal before entering the curve on the 53rd kilometer. "On driving out of the curve I saw people in green jackets close to the train. They were half-bent down with their backs turned to the train. I applied emergency braking simultaneously with the sound signal, ... but they didn't react. It seemed they didn't hear me...then I felt a strong blow". His assistant went down to estimate the situation. The workers only shrugged their shoulders when asked why there had been no signalperson and recommended to ask authorities.
It is important that Sergey Napalkov pleaded himself guilty. By the way, he was appointed a railway master only a month before the accident. He had been a common master until then. It means that he himself must have jumped aside from a train several times. Nevertheless, his confession did not seem valuable to the court.
"The testimony of the accused which contained a plea of 'guilty' because of his late arrival at work ... is regarded by the court not as a legal, but a moral judgment of his actions and does not prove that he is guilty", - stated judge Antonenko.
As for the arguments of the prosecution, the court rejected them through logic: "The proof of the prosecution ... only shows that Napalkov has breached the work discipline by being late to his place of work, but not requirements of the work safety. This infringement is not in causal connection with the consequences in the form of death of the victims".
The court called their actions "careless and self-assured" and noted that each worker was informed about the rules of work since work instructions took place every day. "The decision to start work before the master's arrival was taken by the members of the brigade by themselves. They wanted to finish their work day earlier", - emphasized the judge.
Master Napalkov's case does not go with the practice of criminal prosecution in Russia. For instance, three workers and a representative of a contractor were found guilty after 24 people died because of a train derailing. A criminal case against an ordinary member of the Metro staff who sent two trainees instead of an ill inspector to the station where a terrorist passed through , was brought in court after a terrorist act in the Petersburg underground. Nevertheless, an ordinary staff member was unable to influence the work of detection frames.
In our case Themis has not found corpus delicti in the master's actions. This automatically causes great problems to the investigation and the Office of the Prosecutor. A source in the IC said that a 'not guilty' decision is usually followed by an internal investigation.
"If a person is acquitted, it means that proof of their guilt was received either with the help of infringement, or by totally unlawful means. But the conclusion is always the same - an investigator has badly done their job. The following punishment - up to conclusion of incomplete job conformity or even dismissal. The Prosecutors also suffer. They have been informed about the case since the beginning of the criminal case and have the right to interfere at any time and approve the indictment. It means that they have also done their job badly", - emphasized the source and added that such cases were rare, as well as termination of a criminal case by an investigator on the rehabilitation grounds. "Everyone is used to 'guilty' decisions , that's why some people try to bring cases in court on the off-chance". Another person was more straight: "Everyone will get a portion of thrashing".
Judges also don't benefit from the 'not guilty' decisions. First of all, it is an open conflict with the Prosecutor. Next, such a verdict is more complicated and takes more time. And finally, according to statistics, these sentences are cancelled four times more often than 'guilty' ones. And several cancellations are followed by the Qualification Board - and that is not beneficial for the career at all.
As the railway master's advocate Ruslan Aidamirov says, his client's innocence was obvious to him. "The question was whether the judge would be determined enough to pass an acquittal. The majority of his colleagues simply compensate injustice of the sentence by mildness of the punishment" - noted the advocate.
"In case of appeal against the acquittal, we will need to concentrate on the next stage and it is much more difficult - we will have to persuade a board of three judges in the appellate court that our client is not guilty, and this is obviously harder because the State Prosecutor will do their best to prove that the acquittal is unlawful, otherwise the investigation and the State Prosecutor will face serious legal consequences", - supposes Aleksey Dobrynin, advocate of Attorneys at Law Pen & Paper, who also took part in the defense of Napalkov.
As a note. Judge Andrey Antonenko is 44. He graduated from the SPbSU on the speciality of Law. He has been working as a judge for a relatively short period of time since his appointment by the Decree of the President in 2010.
Quite naturally, Sergey Napalkov looked constrained while speaking to 47news. Still he expressed surprise: "Certainly I know that such court decisions are rare. I anticipated another outcome".
Finally, it should be emphasized that acquittals are almost always appealed by the Prosecutor's Office. So, it may be not the very end of the story.