Three French police officers charged with manslaughter over chokehold death
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Three French police officers have been charged with manslaughter over the death by asphyxiation of delivery driver Cédric Chouviat during his arrest. The victim’s family expressed “relief” but said the charge was too lenient.
The three French police officers were charged with manslaughter on Thursday, judicial sources told French news agency AFP. A fourth police officer is under investigation but has not been charged.
Cedric Chouviat, 42, died in hospital from asphyxia on 3 January, with a fracture to the larynx, according to a prosecutor’s report.
It followed a heated exchange with police officers two days previously after he was stopped near the Eiffel Tower in Paris for a simple traffic check.
During the arrest he was held down in a chokehold, still wearing his scooter helmet, for about 20 seconds. Footage of the scene was posted on social media.
🇫🇷 ALERTE INFO - Un troisième #policier est mis en examen pour « #homicide involontaire » dans l’affaire Cédric #Chouviat, tué lors d’une violente #interpellation de #police à #Paris. Deux policiers avaient déjà été mis en examen pour le même motif les 7 et 8 juillet. (BFMTV) pic.twitter.com/zkEtUYe0r6— Conflits (@Conflits_FR) July 16, 2020
Chouviat, of North African origin, said "I'm suffocating" seven times before his body went limp, according to a review by investigators of video footage of the incident.
Chouviat’s family said Thursday that they were “relieved” the officers had been charged but that a charge of manslaughter was too lenient "for the violence and aggressiveness of the police officers" as seen in video footage captured by witnesses.
"Voluntary blows led to the death of Cedric Chouviat," the family said in a statement.
Under French law, a charge of "voluntary violence" could carry a higher penalty than manslaughter.
3 policiers sur 4 mis en examen. La famille est soulagée. Elle ne comprend pas que Monsieur Darmanin @Interieur_Gouv et la @pref soutiennent et ne suspendent pas ceux qui ont fracturé le larynx et etouffé #CedricChouviat. https://t.co/yArbpGG93V— Arié Alimi (@AA_Avocats) July 16, 2020
Prosecutors opened a manslaughter enquiry into the Chouviat case in June. Two of the officers involved in his arrest were charged last week, and a third on Thursday, according to his lawyer.
All have remained on duty.
Lawyer Arié Alimi tweeted that the family didn't understand why the officers had not been suspended and called on the new interior minister Gérald Darmanin to do so.
The investigators used video images recorded by the victim, one of the police officers and a bystander.
The footage appears to show Chouviat with the weight of at least one officer on his torso. According to two witnesses, the delivery driver was held in a chokehold.
The legal team representing the police officers said the police had never heard Chouviat say he was having breathing difficulties while they were restraining him.
When they "discovered" he had said those words they were “devastated” said lawyers Thibault de Montbrial and Laurent-Franck Liénard.
Controversial chokehold technique
Questions over Chouviat’s death resurfaced after the killing of George Floyd in the US led to protests worldwide over alleged police brutality; Chouviat’s words “I’m suffocating” echoed that of Floyd’s “I can’t breathe”.
During a press conference on 23 June, Chouviat’s family addressed President Macron directly saying: “We want answers”.
The family has asked that the restraint techniques used on Chouviat - a chokehold and a position where a person is forced face down on the ground while pressure is applied on their torso - be banned.
Former Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced a ban on chokeholds in June but backtracked after a backlash by police who demonstrated across France.
The technique remains authorised while an “alternative method” of restraint is found.
France has seen demonstrations in recent weeks against alleged police brutality and racism.
The protests were sparked by a report clearing the officers who arrested Adama Traore, a 24-year-old black man who died in police custody in 2016.
One of the officers admitted the young man was pinned to the ground with their combined bodyweight.
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