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French appeals court sentences cop for shooting man in back

French police gather outside a local police station in Paris, France, October 11, 2016.
French police gather outside a local police station in Paris, France, October 11, 2016. Reuters/Charles Platiau

This Friday, the Paris Court of Appeals handed down a five-year suspended sentence to policeman Damien Saboundjian for the killing of Amine Bentounsi in April 2012. The officer had initially been acquitted in January of 2016.


After nearly six hours of deliberation, the court found that Saboundjian, 37, had not acted in self-defence when he shot Bentounsi, then aged 29, in Noisy-le-Sec, a city in the northern Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis. The officer has been found guilty of deliberate assault resulting in death without premeditation, and has been given a five-year suspended sentence.

During this probation period, the officer will be prohibited from carrying a gun. However, he has not been suspended from duty, and will therefore be able to return to work as a police officer.

The court agreed with the prosecution, which argued that Saboundjian had fired in a state of panic, and had reacted "inappropriately" in a situation that was neither life-threatening, nor susceptible to cause the officer bodily harm.

On that day in April 2012, Saboundjian had responded to a tip-off that a known armed robber was in front of a bar in the area. He and three of his colleagues encountered Bentounsi when they arrived on the scene. When they asked to see his identification, Bentounsi ran away and, according to French daily Le Monde, threw an artificial grenade at the officers. Saboundjian then chased after him, and ultimately shot him four times in the back, killing 29-year-old Bentounsi.

Prosecution attorney Louise Tort recognised that Bentounsi “was not an angel” – he had been a chronic offender who had violated his parole – “but he didn’t deserve to die like a dog.”

Saboundjian, for his part, maintained the same argument throughout the five-year trial process. “He held me up, so I shot him.” No eye-witness has been able to confirm his claim that Bentounsi was armed. One of the other officers on the scene had initially corroborated this, but later retracted his statement.

Defence attorney Daniel Merchat accused the Court of Appeals of being “anti-police”: “I know that there cannot be a presumption of self-defence; but neither can there be a presumption of guilt.”

He argued that “only police” are considered guilty until proven innocent, rather than innocent until proven guilty.

The decision has been hailed by advocates against police violence. Some 100 protestors, who had been chanting “justice for Amine” outside the court on Friday, celebrated when the decision was handed down.

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