French police commissioner charged over death during Fête de la musique

French police commissioner charged over death during Fête de la musique
Supporters pay tribute to Steve Canico during a rally in June marking the second anniversary of his death. Photo: Loic Venance | AFP
French prosecutors have charged a police commissioner with involuntary manslaughter following the death of a man killed when officers tried to shut down a rave concert in the city of Nantes two years ago.

The body of Steve Maia Canico, 24, was found in the Loire river a month after the controversial police raid in the early hours of June 22th, 2019, following the country’s annual Fête de la Musique celebrations.

An analysis of Canico’s mobile phone determined that he fell into the river during clashes that saw more than a dozen concertgoers go into the water, prompting accusations that officers used excessive force.

Several eyewitnesses said they had been blinded by tear gas during the raid as baton-wielding officers moved in to disperse crowds.

Canico’s family and friends have long demanded that officials be held accountable for his death, which came as police were facing criticism over heavy-handed tactics used against “yellow vest” protesters.

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The police commissioner in charge of the intervention, Gregoire Chassaing, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to the prosecutor’s office in Rennes, where the case was transferred.

“He contests the basis and the terms of his indictment but does not wish to make any statement while the inquiry is ongoing,” his lawyer Louis Cailliez told AFP.

Another commissioner, Thierry Palermo, who was regional director of public security at the time, was named an “assisted witness” after questioning, meaning he remains under investigation but there is currently not enough evidence for charges to be filed.

Six other people will be questioned in the coming weeks by the judge leading the investigation, including the mayor of Nantes, Johanna Rolland, and the region’s former prefect, prosecutors said.

Last month around 1,000 people demonstrated in Nantes to mark the second anniversary of Canico’s death. 

“This is a great relief for the family and a feeling of justice that they have needed for the past two years,” said Cecile de Oliveira, a lawyer for the family.

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