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.
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Some activists said the police officers had got away lightly however.
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.
Marc-Antoine Castelain, 34, who was found guilty of the truncheon blow that injured Luhaka, received a 12-month suspended prison sentence.
His colleagues Jeremie Dulin, 42, and Tony Hochart, 31, received three-month suspended terms at the end of the 10-day trial. Prosecutors had asked for a three-year jail term for Castelain and 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”.
The tense courtroom was packed with Luhaka’s supporters and plainclothes police for the sentencing. Afterwards, Luhaka 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”.
He has however 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.
Luhaka’s lawyer Antoine Vey said the guilty verdict was a “victory” but some 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 in a statement 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”.
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”.
This was a rare case of police brutality to be tried in a court instead of at an internal disciplinary hearing.
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 there had been a “disproportionate use of force” and 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.
Activists have repeatedly accused French police of brutality and racism.
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.
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