French police violence: notorious cases

AFP - [email protected]
French police violence: notorious cases
French activist Jean-Baptiste Redde aka Voltuan (R) holds a sign reading 'Support for Assa, justice for Adama' next to other demonstrators during the trial of Assa Traore, the sister of Adama Traore who died in custody after his arrest by gendarmes in 2016 (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

A video of police fatally shooting a teenager during a traffic check has put French policing back in the spotlight.


Relations between the police and immigrant communities came into sharp focus in 2005 when two teenagers, one black, one of Arab origin, died while trying to hide from officers in an electricity sub-station in a Paris suburb.

Their deaths caused weeks of rioting, with youths blaming the police for their demise.


AFP looks back at some of the high-profile cases in which French police were accused of violent abuses:

Beaten up 

In November 2020, CCTV footage of white officers beating up and racially insulting an unarmed black music producer in his central Paris studio caused a national outcry, fuelling accusations of institutionalised racism in the police.

Michel Zecler was stopped for not wearing a Covid face mask. The police also claimed he smelled strongly of cannabis but only a tiny amount of the substance was later found in a bag.

Zecler said the officers used a racist epithet while punching him in an attack that President Emmanuel Macron said "shamed" France.

Four officers were charged with assault. The case has yet to go to trial.

'I'm suffocating'

In January 2020, 42-year-old motorbike delivery rider Cedric Chouviat died after being stopped by police in central Paris, who said he was talking on his mobile phone.

An argument ensued, during which officers pinned Chouviat to the ground with his helmet still on and restrained him in a chokehold.


A video showed him pleading with officers, saying "I'm suffocating" nine times, before suffering a heart attack. Three officers were charged with manslaughter.

The use of the chokehold, blamed for other deaths in police custody in France, was banned in 2021.

Disabled for life

A 22-year-old black man, Theodore Luhaka, was left disabled for life after being sodomised with a police baton during a stop-and search operation in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois in 2017.

A video showed him wrestling with the officers then suddenly collapsing in pain. The attack caused riots. Then president Francois Hollande visited Luhaka in hospital.

Three officers are to stand trial in January 2024 on charges of mutilating him.

France's 'George Floyd'

Often dubbed the "French George Floyd", 24-year-old Adama Traore died in police custody on July 19, 2016 after being pinned to the ground, with handcuffs on, following a chase in the Paris suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise.

One of the officers said Traore bore the combined weight of three officers who tried to restrain him.

His death led to several nights of riots in the Paris region. His sister Assa leads the "Justice for Adama" movement.

Belgian experts concluded Adama's death was caused by heatstroke, aggravated by the police's use of physical restraint.

No charges have been brought in the case.


The the case that sparked the recent nights of rioting across France was another one that was caught on video, this time mobile phone camera footage.

Police initially said that 17-year-old Nahel had refused to stop, and had driven at officers who fired in self-defence.

Then the video emerged on social media - it showed the yellow Mercedes with Nahel at the wheel was stationery while a police officer stands to one side, pointing his gun through the window. Shouts are heard, including one of the officers yelling 'you'll get a bullet in the head' - the car then begins to move off, the officer fires and the car briefly careers out of control before crashing. Nahel is pronounced dead at the scene after being shot in the chest.

The teenager, who did not have a driving licence, was driving a rented car with Polish registration. He had previously been in trouble for driving without a licence, but had no criminal record.

The officer has been charged with murder and is expected to stand trial in the months to come. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also