Early Thursday, Swedish police received an urgent call: A man was walking around the Vasastan district in central Stockholm with what appeared to be a gun.
When officers arrived, they found 20-year-old Eric Torrell. They reportedly called out to him to put down what appeared to be a weapon in his hand. According to the Swedish Police Authority, officers decided that the scene was “threatening.”
They ended up shooting Torrell, who died.
In an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen, Torrell’s family said that he had Down syndrome and autism, and was essentially nonverbal. His vocabulary consisted mainly of “Mum,” his mother, Katarina Soderberg, told the newspaper. And the weapon in his hand? It was a toy gun.
“We are furious because of their lying and making up things,” she said. “A threatening man? He’s like a 3-year-old.”
Torrell’s father told Expressen that “three police officers shot him in his stomach.”
In a statement, the Stockholm police said that their officers wound up in a “threatening situation” while searching someone and then opened fire on him. On Friday, Martin Tiden, the Swedish prosecutor investigating the case, said multiple officers fired their weapons at Torrell, but that none of them are suspected of foul play.
“The man held a weapon-like object and officers opened fire after judging the situation as threatening,” Tiden said.
A spokesperson for the police declined to comment to The Washington Post, citing an ongoing investigation.
The Expressen said the public prosecutor’s office is probing whether there was officer misconduct, and the police spokesperson told The Washington Post that such probes are standard in any incident in which an officer discharges a firearm.
Ulf Johansson, regional chief of police in Stockholm, said in a statement that Torrell’s death was “very tragic for everyone involved.”
“I still want to mention, from experience, that very difficult decisions in unclear and high-pressure situations must sometimes be taken in one or a few seconds,” he said.
John Stauffer, legal director at Civil Rights Defenders, a watchdog group in Sweden, told The Washington Post that it’s too early to judge whether police acted improperly. But he said that his organization has tracked “an increase in deaths in police interventions” in Sweden.
“If we look back maybe five or six years, there used to be around one incident a year where a person died from a shooting in a police intervention,” he said. “But then suddenly it’s increased to four or five incidents per year, so something has changed.”
According to Swedish public radio, six people have been fatally shot by police in Sweden this year.
Stauffer said that CRD has been particularly concerned over police treatment of mentally ill individuals in Sweden. He noted that Torrell, who had a developmental disability, did not fall into that category, but Torrell’s death fits into a broader conversation about police behavior in the Nordic country.
Additionally, CRD and the University of Stockholm partnered for an academic study on police using ethnic profiling, Stauffer said, and they found that minorities “are targeted in a different way” than other Swedes.
“They are stopped in a different way, they are stopped more often,” he said. “It shows a worrying pattern.”
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