(MOSCOW) — A former United States Marine has been in detention in Moscow for eight months and on trial for what his lawyers say are trumped-up charges that he assaulted police officers.
The arrest of 28-year-old Trevor Reed, who is from Texas, is attracting comparisons with the detention of Paul Whelan, the former Marine held in Moscow on espionage charges.
Relatives of both men have expressed fears they might have been targeted as Americans amid tensions between the U.S. and Russia, and when there are heightened concerns they could be viewed by Russian authorities as bargaining chips. They have both appealed to the U.S. government for help.
Reed’s family has only recently gone public with his detention, concerned initially that doing so could make his case political and believing the facts would quickly lead to his release.
“We believed that the evidence spoke for itself,” Reed’s father, Joey Reed, told ABC News outside his son’s latest hearing on Wednesday at the Golovinsky court in northern Moscow.
“But it became evident that the charges against him were going to be maintained no matter what,” he said. “We realized that things seemed to be changing and there seems to be a desire to keep him.”
Reed is currently being held in Moscow’s Detention Center 5 and the court ruled last month to extend his detention by six months and refused bail, despite it previously being granted by an earlier court.
Reed, who left the Marines in 2016 with an honorable discharge, traveled to Moscow last May to study Russian and spend time with his Russian girlfriend, Alina Tsibulnik.
On Aug. 15, a few days before he was due to return to Texas, Reed and his girlfriend attended a party organized by her colleagues. While at the party, he drank a large amount of vodka and became heavily intoxicated, his family said.
In a car going home afterwards, Reed became frantic and demanded to get out. Fearing he was unwell and that he might injure himself in traffic, his girlfriend and her friends called the police, believing they would take him to a hospital or drunk tank to sober up, she told ABC News.
Two officers arrived and agreed to take Reed to a station, while Tsibulnik and the other followed in another car. At the station she said she was told to come back for him in two hours.
When she returned, however, she said she found Reed showing signs he had been beaten up, with bruises on his face. Officers from Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, the FSB, then arrived and questioned Reed without an attorney or a translator present, she said.
Reed was arrested and charged with deliberately endangering the lives of the two police officers who had transported him to the station. Investigators accuse him of having attacked the officers while in the police car, shaking the driver by the shoulders, allegedly causing him to swerve into oncoming traffic and putting them in mortal danger.
Prosecutors have brought a serious charge that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years jail.
But Reed’s family and his attorneys say the evidence doesn’t support the charge and police have deliberately exaggerated the severity of the incident.
His attorneys said they will present traffic camera footage to the court that shows the police car never swerved, something Reed’s girlfriend and others in the car following have testified.
The police car and the police station were also fitted with cameras, which should have shown what happened. But police have refused to hand over any of the recordings, telling investigators the files have been deleted.
“It’s the defense attorneys’ belief that if we had those videos we would not be talking with you here today,” Reed’s father said on Wednesday.
The two officers appeared as witnesses in the hearing on Wednesday, where both struggled to recall the incident in detail and gave descriptions that suggested it had been more minor than portrayed by the prosecution.
The driver told the court that he had felt “him pulling at my shoulders,” but that his colleague had almost instantly restrained Reed. The other officer said Reed had hit him around the stomach once with his elbow, leaving a “small bruise.” The driver said Reed tore off his uniform’s epaulette while pulling at him.
Both nonetheless said they feared their lives were in danger, since the car could have crossed onto the other side of the road. They said the bruise and the tear to the uniform had also caused them “moral damages.”
Both were also repeatedly confronted with inconsistencies in their written testimonies, including that the senior officer had falsely said Reed had to be brought into the police station in handcuffs. The two became so confused that the judge more than once laughed at them.
Given the facts in the case, the family said they initially thought it would quickly be dismissed or reclassified with a less serious offence that carries a fine. Instead they said what appeared to be a relatively minor incident was being treated as a deliberate, serious attempt on the police officers’ lives.
Other Russian courts have already treated the case skeptically. In September, a Moscow court granted Reed bail, posted at $15,000 — almost unheard of in a case on serious criminal charges. But an appeal court overturned the ruling, prolonging his detention. Moscow’s Supreme Court again rejected that decision in February, Reed’s father said, ruling that the decision to deny bail had procedural errors. Yet another court is due to review the decision later this month.
Reed’s family have said they still do not understand the motives driving the case. They said they have been told it is standard practice for the FSB to question any American with a military background when arrested.
Whelan’s detention has heightened concerns among U.S. officials that Americans in Russia may be at risk from Russia’s security services. No evidence has yet been made public against Whelan, and former American intelligence officials have said his case resembles frame-ups once typical of the KGB.
Critics say Russia’s criminal justice system is also plagued by cases where prosecutors bring contrived charges, knowing they will face little resistance from judges in a system where fewer than 1% of criminal trials end in acquittal. Another Texas man, Galen Grandstaff, was held for almost two years in pre-trial detention in Moscow after police charged him with large-scale drug smuggling for buying a cleaning product online.
The U.S. embassy sent a consular officer to attend the hearing on Wednesday. It declined to comment on the case.
Reed’s family said they still hoped it might be “just how the system works” and that there is no political dimension to the case. But they said they are increasingly worried. His girlfriend on Wednesday said she could see no other explanation for the severity of the charges besides Reed being an American serviceman.
“It seems like that,” Tsibulnik said. “I can’t know for sure. If it’s not, I will be glad, but it seems like that.”
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