July 31, 2019 / 8:10 PM / 24 days ago

Italian policeman accused of blindfolding U.S. murder suspect in custody

ROME (Reuters) - Italian magistrates are investigating accusations of abuse of office against a policeman who allegedly blindfolded an American teenager soon after his arrest on suspicion of killing a police officer, a source close to the matter said on Wednesday.

Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, was arrested on Saturday with his friend Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, on suspicion of murdering policeman Mario Cerciello Rega, after a dispute following a failed drug deal.

A picture of Natale-Hjorth, whose family have said he is innocent of any wrongdoing, in custody with a blindfold and with his hands cuffed behind his back started circulating on social media on Saturday.

Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has dismissed the controversy.

“To those who complain about the blindfolding of a person arrested, I remind them that the only victim to cry for is a ... Carabiniere ... who died while doing his job, killed by people who, if guilty, deserve spending their life in prison,” Salvini wrote on Sunday on Twitter.

In a news conference on Tuesday, prosecutors said they would investigate the treatment of Natale-Hjorth, without giving details that it would concern abuse of office, and said the police force itself had reported the existence of the picture.

According to the source, magistrates are also examining the smartphones of the policemen who were in the room with Natale-Hjort, to find out who took the picture and shared it. The person who took the picture would be accused of disclosure of official secrets, the source said.

In a statement issued after he visited his son Natale-Hjort in jail, Fabrizio Natale declined to comment on the issue.

The father of Finnegan Lee Elder arrived in Rome on Wednesday morning and is waiting to see his son.

In an order for them to be kept in jail, seen by Reuters, a judge said Elder had admitted he had stabbed a man. The American has said he did not know the man stabbed was a policeman.

Reporting by Domenico Lusi; Writing by Angelo Amante; Editing by Alison Williams

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