The apparently deranged André C. was seen walking through the streets of the city's Wedding district holding two knives and carrying an axe in his waistband on Saturday afternoon. A police car arrived and two officers jumped out of the car holding firearms. The situation escalated when the 50-year-old moved to attack the officers after they called on him to drop his weapons.
Eyewitnesses said a female officer fired at least five warning shots into the air, and then shot at the man, hitting him once in the calf and grazing his stomach twice. Reinforcements were called because the man still clung to one of his knives.
A video filmed by a passer-by and released on the Bild website shows five officers then surrounding the man sitting on the ground. They can be seen spraying him twice with pepper spray, hitting him on the arm with a baton, and kicking him in the back of the neck. One officer then appears to let a police dog bite him in the head.
André C. sustained severe injuries while he was being overpowered and later underwent emergency surgery. He was reported to be out of danger on Monday.
Several eyewitnesses gave a damning account of the police's actions. "The policewoman looked totally frantic," one local resident told the B.Z. newspaper. "She just kept screaming 'drop the knife, drop the knife.' "
"The officers looked scared," eyewitness Yessin B. said, while another told Bild newspaper, "The man looked defenceless, the police response seemed brutal."
State criminal investigators have launched a routine investigation to determine whether the police's violence was appropriate, while police unions were quick to defend the officers.
"Anyone who calls that brutal, I'd like to watch them wet themselves if they were in that situation," said Bodo Pfalzgraf, head of the Berlin branch of police union DPolG. His counterpart Michael Purper of the GdP union added, "If the police shouts warnings, and even fires warning shots and the man still won't drop the weapon, then resorting to violence is allowed."
Berlin politicians also gave cautious support for the police. "After the warning shots, the man knew what he was letting himself in for," said Christoph Lauer, security policy spokesman for the Berlin Pirate Party, who intends to raise the incident at a parliamentary committee meeting. "The video does not show what happened before and afterwards."
But André C.'s nephew Martin K. said the police's response was much too tough. "My uncle was already lying on the ground seriously injured," he told B.Z., adding that he couldn't explain his relative's deranged behaviour.
The paper reported that André C. had got into an argument with "a group of Asians" that afternoon, had gone home to get something and was then stopped by the police.
"My uncle is usually a really nice guy who wouldn't do anything to anyone," said 23-year-old Martin K. "He just drinks a bit too much. His son died 10 years ago in an accident in Thailand, and his father died six weeks ago. He hasn't really got over it yet."
André C. has no previous convictions, though he has come to the police's attention for misdemeanours including verbal abuse in the past three years.