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French police officers charged over chokehold death

July 16, 2020

Three police officers have now reportedly been charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery man by asphyxiation. The case bears similarities to the killing of George Floyd in the US.

French riot police wearing gas masks look towards anti-government demonstrators in Paris
Image: Getty Images/K. Ridle

Three French police officers are now facing manslaughter charges over the death of a 42-year-old man of North African origin who was pinned to the ground for 20 seconds during an arrest in Paris in January, news agencies reported on Thursday, citing judicial sources.

Cedric Chouviat died in hospital two days after police officers held him down near the Eiffel Tower using a chokehold and a restraining technique in which pressure is applied to the torso.

Chouviat said "I'm suffocating" seven times before losing consciousness, according to investigators who reviewed video footage of the incident. A prosecutor's report says he died of asphyxiation with a "fracture of the larynx."

Read more: Paris Pride: LGBT activists protest against racism, police brutality

A lawyer for two of the officers has argued that his clients had not been able to hear Chouviat's words, spoken into a microphone inside his motorbike helmet, because of traffic noise.

Two of the three officers implicated in his death were charged on July 7 and 8, judicial sources told private television broadcaster BFMTV. The incident was filmed by a fourth police official, who is under investigation.

Anti-racism demonstrations in France

Charges 'too lenient'

Chouviat's family said on Thursday that the charge of manslaughter was too lenient and that the more serious charge of "voluntary violence" should be applied, which could carry a higher penalty under French law. The family also called for the restraint techniques used on Chouviat to be banned.

Ex-Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced a ban on chokeholds in June following mass protests against police brutality, but backtracked after police across France demonstrated against the change.

Two large demonstrations against police violence and racism have taken place in Paris in recent months, sparked by a report clearing officers who arrested Adama Traore, a 24-year-old Black man who died in police custody in 2016.

The protests also echoed the Black Lives Matter protests in the US, triggered by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who also cried out several times that he was being suffocated while a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd's neck.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he wanted body cameras to become standard equipment for police to help "reestablish trust" with the public, a trust that has also been undermined by alleged police brutality during anti-government "yellow vest" protests.

tj/rs (AFP, dpa)