Clermont-Ferrand Police Accused of Brutality
A death in the city of Clermont-Ferrand is making news. Following several days in a coma, Wissam El-Yamni, 30, who was beaten by two police officers when he threw projectiles at their car on New Year's Eve, died on Monday (January 9). Le Parisien reports:
The man who was in a coma ever since his violent arrest on New Year's Eve in Clermont-Ferrand died on Monday. "We learned of his death during the afternoon. He had been in a coma for several days" announced attorney Jean-François Canis, confirming information from the regional newspaper La Montagne. Wissam El-Yamni was under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine at the time of his arrest near a shopping center in the Gauthière neighborhood.
According to the police, he was very agitated, and attacked the police, throwing projectiles at their car. After a police chase, he was pinned to the ground, handcuffed and led to police headquarters. He fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack during the ride. He had no medical precedents. He had fractures and lesions to the neck when help arrived.
Interior Minister Claude Guéant mentioned the case during a trip to Sevran (Seine-Saint-Denis). "A judicial inquiry has been decided on. I cannot express the slightest opinion on this case. The only thing I would like to say is that if there was a difficult arrest, it was not due to the police officers."
The tension, ever since, has been palpable in Clermont-Ferrand, with several dozen cars burned this weekend and a silent march of more than 500 people on Saturday. The participants, youth from the working class neighborhoods ("quartiers populaires") of the city for the most part, paraded in front of the police station carrying a banner reading: Nobody is above the law. Stop police brutality. We are all with you, Wissam."
The article describes a helicopter armed with a projector and four bus loads of riot police arriving on the scene at 9:00 p.m.
On New Year's Eve, a resident of the neighborhood, Laure Marchand had witnessed the attack while at her window smoking a cigarette:
"Two people pinned him to the ground and beat him in the torso and the head," she insisted.
She also declared:
"In the supermarket, late in the afternoon, the young people said: 'He is dead'. They were all angry."
The prefect announced on Monday that security measures would be maintained and reenforced if the need arises.
Three young persons ages 18 - 20 appeared in court on Monday afternoon for throwing rocks on New Year's Eve. All three deny the charges. The first one was sentenced to four months in prison, with probation after the second month, the second was released, and the third, convicted also for rebellion, will spend one year in prison without probation and with a "mandat de dépôt" since he was a repeat offender.
Note: A "mandat de dépôt" is an order from the judge to the police to escort a criminal to prison.
A judicial inquiry was opened on Friday by the prosecution of Clermont-Ferrand charging two police officers with "voluntary blows and injuries inflicted by persons invested with public authority." According to the lawyer for the family of Wissam El-Yamni the wording of the charges will be changed to "acts of violence that brought about death". The lawyer said he would request that "a maximum number of witnesses be heard by the examining magistrates."
Since this article was posted in Le Parisien, there have been numerous updates. Here are just two of several headlines:
The LDH (Human Rights League) and the CGT (a major French labor union) have declared that the two policemen should be suspended as a means of bringing calm back to the neighborhood. The lawyer for the LDH claims that "young people may feel there is a double standard, with some being sent immediately to court and put on trial, on the one hand, while the police officers are back at work, on the other. (Le Parisien)
Synergie (the second most important police union) has said it supports the policemen. In a communiqué, the union "exhorts the petty inquisitors to abstain from a media lynching of the incriminated officers…" The union also said it "refuted the comforting theories of the culture of excuse" that sought to "victimize the criminals and absolve them of the acts they had committed over the past few days". (Le Parisien)
Below, police patrol Clermont-Ferrand.