A young Frenchman's death raises suspicions of police brutality
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Four months after 24-year-old Adama Traoré died while in police custody, tensions in the outer Paris suburb of Beaumont-sur-Oise are still running high.
Despite a police enquiry, his family continue to dispute the official version of events surrounding the young man’s death, raising questions about the conduct of police, the judiciary and even the local mayor.
According to the police authorities, on July 19 at 5pm in Beaumont-sur-Oise, Traoré fled police after he and his brother Bagui were approached by police officers carrying out identity checks. Traoré was later apprehended by police who found him at a nearby apartment block. By 8pm, however, Traoré was pronounced dead.
Accusations of foul play
Just what happened in the intervening hours before his death has led Traoré’s family to conclude that Adama was the victim of foul play by the police.
In his autopsy report of 21 July, prosecutor Yves Jannier noted that "scratches" were found on Traoré’s body, "but nothing significant" that could point to an unnecessary use of force.
Dismissing the theory of foul play, Jannier said: "Obviously this person could not have suffered the kind of violence members of his family have claimed."
At a hearing before the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGGN), the officers stood by their claims – they strictly adhered to a “necessary use of force”.
A witness contradicts police
Weeks after the IGGN hearing, a witness emerged to undermine the officers’ version of events. On the night of Traoré’s death, the witness (a fireman) intervened when he saw “the victim was face down on his belly, hands handcuffed behind his back”.
He asked the police to remove the young man's handcuffs and place him on his back after Traoré had been left lying unattended.
The policemen, defending their actions at the IGGN hearing, said that they thought the young man was perhaps feigning discomfort.
"We were not sure if he was really unconscious or whether he was pretending," one of the policemen said.
"It took all three of us to physically bring him under arrest," the officers told the IGGN. This account proved consistent with what the second autopsy report concluded in July – that death was caused by "asphyxiation", although how the asphyxiation occurred could not be determined.
The report altogether contradicted the first autopsy that focused on pre-existing lesions in Traoré’s lungs, liver and glands. It also pointed to the existence of "heart disease", according to assumptions made in a medical report – assumptions that were dismissed by the second autopsy, which reported the "absence of cardiac abnormality".
Some interpreted the conflicting reports as evidence of a cover up. Following the publication of the IGGN report, which found no evidence of police misconduct, Traoré’s family filed a new complaint against the police for failure to provide duty of care.
In October, the family succeeded in requesting the transfer of the case to the Paris prosecutor’s office for further investigation.
City's mayor breaks silence
In an interview on Canal + in September, Assa Traoré, Adama's sister, accused the mayor of Beaumont-sur-Oise, Nathalie Groux, of siding with the authorities. "We have been residents of Beaumont for almost 30 years, but we have been treated like strangers, and the mayor has chosen her side – she is on the police's side, which means the side of police brutality”, she said.
Mayor Groux chose to break her silence on November 17 when she filed a complaint against Assa Traoré for defamation. Since then, the council has been looking for ways to obtain financial assistance of up to 10,000 euros to cover the mayor's legal costs.
At a later council meeting, clashes broke out between police and supporters of Adama Traoré's family, who had gathered outside the town hall to express their anger.
Adama Traoré’s two brothers, Bagui, 25 (who has a lengthy criminal record) and Yssoufou, 22, were arrested and detained after being identified in CCTV footage and witness accounts assaulting police outside the council offices. They are now awaiting trial on December 14.
In Beaumont-sur-Oise, their arrests caused unrest and prompted the local prefecture to dispatch 170 police to ensure public order.
Meanwhile, the Traoré case has taken a new turn with representatives for the family issuing an appeal to the Council of Europe and the UN Human Rights Council to intervene on their behalf.
Weighing in on the Traoré case, the Council of Black Associations of France (CRAN) said: "By throwing Adama Traoré's brothers in jail, the police and judiciary have chosen radicalisation.”
This story was translated from the original in French.