FRENCH prosecutors want to drop a highly charged case against two police officers in the electrocution deaths of two teens that sparked fiery nationwide riots in 2005, a judicial official said yesterday.
Lawyers for the victims’ families protested, saying the move would give the police officers undeserved impunity.
Five years after the unrest, tensions between youth and police still simmer and sometimes explode into violence in neglected housing projects around France.
On October 27, 2005, 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. Another boy with them suffered severe burns.
Two police officers were handed preliminary charges for “non-assistance to a person in danger,” a charge that carries up to five years in prison and up to €75,000 in fines.
One was a police intern at the command post listening to radio communications from police at the scene, and the other was an officer who allegedly saw the two teens enter the power substation.
The Bobigny prosecutor’s office has submitted a request to drop the charges, saying there is not enough evidence to show the officers knew the two teens were inside the power station when they died, according to the judicial official, was not authorised to be publicly named.
It’s now up to investigating judges to either accept the request or ignore it and send the case to trial.
Two lawyers for the families, Jean-Pierre Mignard and Emmanuel Tordjman, said in a statement the prosecutor’s request “is aimed at covering with impunity an action contrary to the law and to police ethics”.
Local youths, blaming police for the deaths, set cars and property on fire in an eruption of anger that spread for three full weeks to similar neighbourhoods nationwide with large Arab and black populations.
France’s suburbs remain plagued by poverty, discrimination, tensions between youth and police and a sense of alienation from French society.
An internal police review of the electrocutions faulted police officers for their handling of the incident. It confirmed the officers had been chasing the teens before they were killed, which the Interior Ministry and police had initially denied. The report 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.
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