French officers get suspended jail terms in police brutality case

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French officers get suspended jail terms in police brutality case
This court sketch from January 9, 2024, the first day of the trial shows the three Seine-Saint-Denis police officers who appeared, L to R, Marc-Antoine Castelain, 34, Jeremie Dulin, 42, and Tony Hochart, 31, over the violent arrest in 2017 Theo Luhaka (3rd R). The officers received suspended jail terms on Friday. (Photo by Benoit PEYRUCQ / AFP)

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


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.

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

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

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 a weapon 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".

Theo Luhaka

This file photo shows Theo Luhaka arriving to attend the first day of the trial of the three Seine-Saint-Denis police officers before the Assizes court in Bobigny, near Paris on January 9, 2024. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

The tense courtroom was packed with Luhaka's supporters and plainclothes police for the sentencing. Afterwards, he was greeted with a round of applause.

Activists held up posters showing the faces of people who had died as a result of police violence.

Luhaka, now 29, has said he once dreamed of becoming a footballer but now suffered from incontinence and spent most of his time in his room watching the US detective series "Monk".


Activist anger

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 got 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".

READ ALSO: French police officer who shot teen released under supervision

'Huge 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 other officers kneed, punched and aimed pepper spray at Luhaka while he was handcuffed and on the ground.

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 Frenchman of North African origin, in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.

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



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Ivan Lake 2024/01/20 14:08
They got off very lightly - doesn't look like justice to me

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