PARIS - A French court has acquitted two police officers accused of failing to help a pair of teenagers who were electrocuted 10 years ago. Their deaths sparked widespread rioting in France at the time and still resonates today.
Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein were cleared of charges of ‘non-assistance of an individual in danger’-- for failing to prevent the 2005 deaths of 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna. The teens were electrocuted as they hid in a power station after being chased by police in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois. A third teen was badly burned but survived. The boys’ deaths sparked widespread rioting across France and raised the same difficult issues of race and police profiling that are now being debated in the United States. Issues of ethnicity and discrimination have also resurfaced in France following January’s terror attacks in Paris.
The lawyer for the two officers, Daniel Merchat, told reporters that his clients were relieved at the verdict.
He said the officers had been convinced they had committed no crime. They had suffered for many years.
Jean-Pierre Mignard, lawyer for the boys’ families, said his clients would appeal. The families have launched a civil case demanding more than $1.8 million in compensation and damages.
In the years since the rioting, French authorities have built new housing and transportation services in Clichy and other working-class French suburbs, were many residents are ethnic immigrants and crime rates are high.
Faycal Bouricha, a municipal councillor at Clichy-sous-Bois, says some of the same issues that sparked the rioting have not changed.
He says many ethnic minorities in France still find it as hard today to find work and get ahead as they did a decade ago.