Hundreds of people marched in a Paris suburb on Monday to show support for a young black man whom authorities allege was sodomised by a police officer’s baton last week during a police operation that targeted drug traffickers.
One officer was charged on Sunday with aggravated rape and three others were charged with aggravated assault.
Interior minister Bruno Le Roux suspended the four officers and also said the facts surrounding their arrest of the 22-year-old man during an identity check must be established “very clearly and with no ambiguity.”
The incident allegedly occurred in a neighborhood with a large minority population in the city of Aulnay-sous-Bois, east of Paris, and a crowd turned out there to march in support of the alleged victim.
There were minor clashes and arson attacks on the vast housing estate, called ‘3,000’, on Saturday and Sunday evening where the arrest took place. At least five people were detained, police sources said.
“The feeling of humiliation is felt by people,” said Abdallah Benjana, a former deputy mayor who lives in the neighborhood.
“What are they seeking?,” he said of the officers. “To provoke a spark? Isn’t there enough gunpowder in those neighborhoods? Unemployment, insecurity, high rents ... no perspectives for future. They do that to a young man, it can only explode.”
Abdel Adhoure, a 20-year-old resident of the area, said “every day it’s like that: whenever the police come they carry out abusive checks.”
The young man allegedly assaulted by the officers told his story to the BFM television channel on Monday. Speaking in an audio interview, he said the officers hit him and peppered him with racist insults. At one point, one of the officers took his truncheon and “he drove it into my buttocks,” he said.
A lawyer for the officer charged with rape said any injury inflicted was done accidentally.
The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault. Authorities have not identified the young man, but supporters have been marching in “Justice Pour Theo” shirts.
Eric Dupond-Moretti, a lawyer representing the young man, told Europe 1 radio that his client underwent emergency surgery for a “deep anal tear” and had been hospitalised since.
The attorney said the case is “exceptionally serious” and he called on judicial authorities to treat the officer as any other suspected rapist would be.
French law defines a rape as any act of sexual penetration of any kind, committed by violence, coercion, threat or surprise. When an alleged offender has an authority of law over the victim, a conviction can bring up to 20 years in prison.
In the interview with BFM, the alleged victim said that have he was sodomised, he fell face down. “I had no strength left. It was as if my body had left myself,” he said.
He said he was then handcuffed and taken to a police car, where he was insulted again, spat at and beaten “in the private parts.”
Once at the police station, he said, another officer saw his condition and he was taken to a hospital.
Frederic Gabet, a lawyer for the officer charged with rape, told Europe 1 radio that his client “had never wished at any time to cause any injury to the victim and that the blow had been carried out in a totally involuntary manner, without his being aware of any injury.”
In an interview with AP, Yves Lefebvre, a police union chief, suggested the rape charge was filed “to calm or to stop a violent outburst” in the sensitive suburban neighborhood.
Aulnay-sous-Bois was one of the worst-hit suburbs during 2005 riots around the French capital.
Lefebvre said there was no evidence so far that “the truncheon was actually introduced” into the victim’s rectum. And if that actually happened, it was likely done “accidentally,” the union leader said.
Defender of Human Rights, an independent French watchdog group, said it will investigate “this dramatic case that illustrates the conflicts that sometimes arise from identity checks.”