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France

Police acquitted in case that sparked 2005 riots

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-28

A French court on Wednesday dismissed a case against two police officers in connection with the 2005 deaths of two teenagers in a Paris suburb that led to three weeks of riots across the country. The victims’ families will appeal the ruling.

AP - A Paris appeals court sided with two police officers Wednesday, dropping a “failure to help” case against them for two teens whose deaths in 2005 led to weeks of rioting around France.

The two boys, 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on Oct. 27, 2005. A third teenager suffered serious burns.

The families of the victims were angered by Wednesday’s decision, according to their lawyer, Jean-Pierre Mignard. He said he felt “shame and sadness” and would appeal to a higher court.

What does "failure to help" mean?

Under French law, "failure to help" (in French, "non assistance à personne en danger"), is an offense.

It can be invoked against any French citizen who refuses to render aid to a person in danger when she or he has the means to do so. For example, a doctor refusing to treat someone in need.

The lawyer for the police officers hailed the decision. “Today, after five years, my clients see their professional honesty recognized,” Daniel Merchat told reporters.

Local youths blamed the police for the deaths and exploded in anger, setting cars ablaze and smashing store windows. That tapped a well of frustration nationwide among largely minority youth in poor housing projects, and fiery riots raged across the country for three weeks. Tensions between French police and youths in poor neighborhoods still simmer and occasionally erupt into violence.

The question of the police officers’ responsibility in the deaths has been a divisive one.

Investigating judges ruled last year that the officers should face trial on charges of “non-assistance to a person in danger.” But the regional prosecutor’s office had argued there wasn’t enough evidence to show the officers knew the boys were inside the power station.

The two on trial were a police intern at a command post listening to radio communications from the scene and an officer who allegedly saw the two teens enter the power substation.

The Interior Ministry initially denied that the police had chased the youths before they hid in the power station. An internal police review, however, confirmed the officers had been chasing the teens before they were killed and said officers should immediately have notified French energy company EDF that the youths were hiding in the power station.

Under French law, everyone - not just police - must try to help a person in danger as long as they or others aren’t threatened by bringing such aid.

 

Date created : 2011-04-27

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