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Police officers go on trial for 2017 assault on black man that shocked France

In World
January 09, 2024

Three policemen went on trial in France on Tuesday over an assault that inflicted severe rectal injuries to a black man during a stop and search in 2017 in a case that provoked shock across the country.

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Theo Luhaka, who was 22 at the time, was left disabled after suffering severe anal injuries from a police baton, as well as wounds to his head and face, during the ID check in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois in February 2017.

A medical report in 2019 found his injuries would require life-long treatment.

Dressed in a blue puffa jacket, Luhaka sat in the first row of the packed courtroom in the capital’s suburb of Bobigny on Tuesday.

Marc-Antoine Castelain, 34, Jeremie Dulin, 42, and Tony Hochart, 31, appeared in the dock in a rare case of alleged police brutality to be tried in a criminal court instead of at an internal disciplinary hearing.

Castelain has been accused of voluntary violence that inflicted a “permanent disability” and risks up to 15 years in prison.

His two colleagues are being tried for taking part in the assault, including over allegedly kneeing and punching Luhaka while he was in handcuffs on the ground.

The trial is to last 10 days, with a verdict expected on January 19.

‘Brutality and racism’

Police oversight body IPGN concluded there had been a “disproportionate use of force” in the incident, and that the two violent baton blows were inflicted at a time when “Luhaka was not attacking the physical integrity of the police officers”.

Castelain’s lawyer, Thibault de Montbrial, has argued that his client “performed a move taught at the (police) academy… to help two colleagues in trouble faced with a strong young man who was rebelling, and never intended to injure” him.

Luhaka, who became a symbol of rough policing tactics used against youths in the high-rise housing estates that ring Paris, 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.

Video footage of the assault was shared widely on social media, causing an uproar and prompting then-president Francois Hollande to visit Luhaka in hospital.

Then-president Francois Hollande visited Luhaka in hospital
Then-president Francois Hollande visited Luhaka in hospital. © Arnaud Journois, Le Parisien/AFP

Activists have repeatedly accused French police of brutality and racism.

In July 2020, three officers were charged with manslaughter over the death of delivery man Cedric Chouviat, who was held in a chokehold during his arrest for a traffic offence.

But in September 2023, lawyers said investigating magistrates had dropped their case against three gendarmes over the 2016 death in custody of 24-year-old black man Adama Traore.


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