French officers get 'a slap on the wrist' in landmark police brutality case

A French court has given suspended jail sentences to three officers in a rare case of police brutality coming to court after a black man suffered irreversible rectal injuries. (Photo/Reuters)

A French court has given suspended jail sentences to three officers in a rare case of police brutality coming to court after a black man suffered irreversible rectal injuries.

The verdict was handed down in Bobigny on Friday, northeast of Paris, as concerns about police violence in France are coming to the fore following the death of a 17-year-old Muslim teenager, who was shot by police during a traffic stop in June last year.

Activists said the police officers had got away lightly however and called for firm prison terms.

Theo Luhaka was left disabled after suffering severe anal injuries from a police baton, as well as wounds to his head, during a stop-and-search in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois in 2017.

After more than nine hours of deliberation, Marc-Antoine Castelain, 34, who was found guilty of the truncheon blow that injured Luhaka, received a 12-month suspended prison sentence. He was also banned from carrying a weapon and working on the streets as a police officer for five years.

His colleagues Jeremie Dulin, 42, and Tony Hochart, 31, received three-month suspended terms. They were banned from carrying weapons and working on the streets as policemen for two years.

Prosecutors had asked for a three-year suspended jail term for Castelain and suspended sentences of six and three months for Dulin and Hochart respectively.

Castelain's blow ripped the muscle surrounding Luhaka's anus, leaving a wound 10 centimetres (four inches) deep. But the court rejected the charge of "deliberate violence resulting in permanent mutilation or infirmity."

'Symbol of police brutality'

He has become a symbol of the heavy-handed tactics that police are accused of using in the high-rise housing estates that ring the French capital.

Visibly moved, Luhaka did not speak after the ruling. He had said earlier he wanted to see the policemen convicted.

This was a rare case of police brutality to be tried in a court instead of at an internal disciplinary hearing.

His lawyer Antoine Vey said the guilty verdict was a "victory" but activists said the police had gotten away with a slap on the wrist.

"The message sent to the police is: 'You can mutilate, kill. You'll get a reprieve'," said activist Amal Bentounsi.

The SOS Racisme group said that the interior ministry must follow the verdict by "engaging reforms." It said that the attack on Luhaka was the result of a "law and order philosophy based on confrontation."

Legal 'relief'

Castelain's lawyer Thibault de Montbrial called the sentence "a huge relief" because "it has been established, as he has said from day one, that he is not a criminal."

Luhaka initially accused Castelain of raping him with a baton — an accusation the officer denied, saying he had aimed his baton at Luhaka's legs. Prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to support the rape charge.

"I felt like I was raped," Luhaka told the court on Monday.

The IPGN police watchdog concluded before the trial began that the baton blows were inflicted at a time when "Luhaka was not attacking the physical integrity of the police officers."

Castelain said his baton blow was "legitimate" and had been "taught at the police academy."

The case blew up in the media after security camera footage of the incident was shared online.

In June last year, a police officer shot Nahel, a 17-year-old Muslim Frenchman of North African origin, in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

The killing sparked more than a week of riots and posed serious questions for France about police brutality, living conditions in urban suburbs and integration in an intensely multicultural society.


Source: TRT