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Murder In an Anzhero-Sudzhensk Pretrial Detention Center

On September 7th, 2023, Matvey Chernyshev (born 1998) was rushed to an Anzhero-Sudzhensk hospital in an ambulance. He was brought from Pretrial Facility 4, presenting with severe head trauma in a comatose state. Three days later, on September 10th, Chernyshev passed away after undergoing trepanation and surgery to remove a hematoma from his brain.

The autopsy revealed a closed head wound (a depressed fracture of the left temporal bone with cerebral displacement) as well as brain swelling, which was the immediate cause of death.

According to the investigation, Chernyshev received the injury on August 29th during an argument with his cellmate. Allegedly he punched Chernyshev twice in the temple. Up until September 7th Matvey didn’t make any complaints to other inmates, he went on walks and even went to the gym. He had no visible injuries, and none of the guards knew about it. On September 7th, Chernyshev suddenly felt ill, and was subsequently hospitalized.

Discrepancies between the investigation and the examiner’s report

The conclusion of forensic medical examiner V. Ataulina explicitly states:

“This injury could have been caused by a single blunt object, with a limited traumatic surface area on the left temporal region, or from the head striking such an object, possibly during a fall.” 

It’s impossible to inflict such an injury with just a fist. It’s amazing that Chernyshev, according to the facility staff, felt fine for 10 whole days after the fight with his cellmate Kuzmin. Given that he had a fractured temporal bone, a massive hemorrhage, and “cerebral displacement”.

An important detail: three days before being hospitalized, Chernyshev was transferred to another cell, where he was likely beaten. Matvey wrote about problems with the guards in a note, which he secretly passed to his wife Anastasia during a court session a month before he died: “Do you remember the letters that I didn’t reply to for a long time? There was a problem with the trash… Let’s make a bet. If I don’t reply to your letter in ten days, then something happened.”

Фото из семейного архива
Photo from the family’s archive

The guard’s behavior also warrants suspicion. The facility’s management didn’t report to Cheryshev’s mother, Galina Kolesnikova, either the head trauma, coma, and hospitalization, or even the death of her son. She only found out on September 12th, when her son’s next court session was supposed to take place. The head of Pretrial Facility 4, Sergei Burger, didn’t even give his condolences to Kolesnikova. According to her, in a personal conversation he told her the following verbatim: “Let’s start with the fact that you shouldn’t have ended up here.”

Investigator Denis Danilova wasn’t even surprised by the fact that Chernyshev was able to quietly live out ten days without any health complaints: “The case is perfectly clear to me, the accused (the cellmate, Kuzmin) pleaded guilty and repented. Medical personnel and on-duty prison guards testified to Matvey’s normal wellbeing. I’m inclined to believe this testimony.“ (recorded from Kolesnikova’s words).

A question not answered by the examiner

Let’s return to the medical examiner’s conclusion. He was tasked to answer several questions, including the following: “Could the victim have been active after the injuries were inflicted? If so, then for how long?” Expert V. Ataulin replied: “There are no criteria in forensic medical practices that allow us to say whether the victim, after receiving [the indicated injuries], could have performed active, purposeful actions and for how long.” As it turns out, the examiner hadn’t answered the most important question, that is, about the age of the injuries and whether it was possible to be active for 10 days with such an injury, before he went into a coma and the ambulance was called.

Obviously, a second forensic examination is necessary since it was never clarified if Chernyshev could have survived if he had received timely and appropriate medical attention. An answer to this question is needed for an accurate qualification of the offense. If the cellmate A. Kuzmin, who confessed, committed the offense Part 1, Art. 111 of the Russian Criminal Code (willful infliction of bodily harm), then he’s due for a sentence of 8 years in prison. And if he is guilty of Part 4, Art. 111 (severe harm resulting in the death of the victim through negligence), then he would receive 15 years. And if it’s established that Chernysheva had a chance to survive, then the question stands of the prosecution of the federal penitentiary staff for negligence. It’s strange that the investigator decided to order a second examination only four months after the incident. Who, if not the investigator, could understand the importance of such measures.

In the meantime, Kuzmin’s case has not been brought to court. He is charged with Part 4, Art. 111 of the Criminal Code, but the investigation at this stage is limited to his confession, which was received as a result of the operational and investigative measures in the facility, along with the superficial report from the forensic medical examinations. The question of bringing to trial the head of Pretrial Facility 4, Sergey Burger, the head of the operational unit Azhichakov, paramedics, and prison guards has not been raised.

On January 14th, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a list of protocols following the meeting of the Council under the President for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, held on December 4, 2023. The Investigative Committee was tasked with taking measures to improve the efficiency of investigating crimes related to the torture of detainees, including “by transferring cases of such crimes for preliminary investigation to the main investigative directorates and investigative directorates for the constituent entities of the Russian Federation or the central administrative office.” These instructions give the expectation that the case of Chernyshyov will be transferred to the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Kemerovo Region – Kuzbass. Perhaps, a new investigator from the regional center will avoid delays and finally want to understand what happened in the Anzhero-Sudzhensk detention center.

“Russia Behind Bars” is providing legal support and following the development of this case.

Konstantin GETMANN

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