French police officer on trial for hurling paving stone at ‘yellow vests’ in Paris

A police officer appeared in court for for hurling a paving stone at protesters during a "yellow vest" rally in Paris - the first member of the French security forces to face trial after numerous allegations of police brutality during the weekly protests.

French police officer on trial for hurling paving stone at 'yellow vests' in Paris
The May Day yellow vest rallies in Paris turned violent. Photo: AFP

The case comes just days after the first anniversary of the anti-government rallies, which were again marked by rioting and vandalism last Saturday.

It is the first case arising from 212 cases of alleged police brutality being investigated by the IGPN police oversight body.

Demonstrators accuse police of using excessive force to suppress the movement, in particular the use of rubber bullets which activists say have caused some two dozen people to lose an eye.

READ ALSO Lost eyes, hands blown off – injuries mount from ‘yellow vest’ clashes with police

More than 4,000 people – protesters and police officers – have been injured during a year of protests. Photo: AFP

Around 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 security force members have been injured since the protests began, according to an official count.

On Saturday, another demonstrator lost an eye after being hit in the face, apparently by a police tear gas canister. A video showed him standing in a group talking when he was struck.

The 44-year-old officer on trial on Thursday was also caught on camera in the act of throwing the stone during the May 1st protests, when ‘yellow vests’ demonstrated alongside the traditional union rallies. The video did not show where the stone landed or if anyone was hit.

He risks up to three years in prison and a fine of €45,000 if convicted of “deliberate violence by a person in a position of public authority”.

The SGP police union has accused the judiciary of trying to make a “scapegoat” of him and argued that he had acted in self-defence.

His lawyer Laurent Boguet told the court that May 1st was a “very violent day” on which police had come under attack from stone-throwing protesters.

Among those hit was the accused’s commanding officer, who was struck in the face by a paving stone and badly injured.

Eyes and limbs lost

The fierce violence that flared during the protests last winter made headlines worldwide, with rioters running amok in Paris and other cities, smashing shopfronts, torching cars and looting businesses.

Yellow vest protests in rural France have been relatively peaceful, by contrast.

The riot police officer on trial in Paris is from a unit based in the southwestern city of Toulouse that was sent to the capital as backup.

His lawyer moved to have the charges dropped, noting that no plaintiff had come forward in the case.

READ ALSO OPINION French police are not just thugs, they are being placed in an impossible situation

Another officer is set to stand trial in the coming weeks for slapping a protester in the face during the same May 1st protest in Paris, a scene also caught on video.

Activists say that in addition to those blinded, five ‘yellow vest’ protesters have lost a hand to police stun grenades, and one a testicle, while dozens of others have sustained other injuries.

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What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?

A court in France has finally handed out sentences to some of those involved in the vandalism and theft at the Arc de Triomphe in December 2018 - when 'yellow vest' violence in Paris shocked the world.

What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?
'Yellow vest' protesters clash with police by the Arc de Triomphe on December 1st 2018 in Paris. Photo: Abdulmonam EASSA / AFP

The French court on Thursday sentenced eight people to suspended jail terms and community service for taking part in one of the most violent episodes of the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests that rocked France two years ago.

A total of nine stood trial this week for the incident, but one of them, a former soldier, was cleared for lack of evidence, presiding judge Sonia Lumbroso said at the verdict.

The court ruled the suspects were neither the instigators nor the main culprits of the vandalism and looting around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, when scenes of destruction and fierce clashes with police made global headlines.

Most of them had no criminal records.

They were sentenced to 70 hours of community service for entering the monument, but those also found guilty of stealing items such as postcards, Arc de Triomphe models or miniature Eiffel Towers from the gift shop, were fined €100 for theft.

A ‘yellow vest’ protester arrives at the courthouse in Paris to attend the trial of ten people on charge of destruction and theft around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

One of the group, a man who was caught on camera trying to break down a door with a fire extinguisher, was handed the most severe sentence, a suspended prison term of eight months.

Dozens of cars were set on fire and businesses trashed all along the celebrated Champs-Elysées avenue on December 1st, 2018, the third Saturday of mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

He was accused of ignoring the plight of struggling French families and after months of protests he abandoned a planned fuel tax hike and raised spending on the lowest earners.

The protesters had already skirmished with security forces at earlier rallies, but police were unprepared for the rioting that engulfed the capital just a few weeks before Christmas.

Despite firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, the officers were forced to abandon their positions around the Arc de Triomphe, which honours France’s war dead.

Protesters snuffed out the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier and spray-painted the stone walls with graffiti including “the yellow vests will triumph”.

Others forced their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, causing damage that cost €1.2 million to repair.

READ ALSO: Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?