French police cleared in teen deaths that sparked riots

RENNES: A French court has acquitted two police officers who were accused of contributing to the deaths of two teenagers in a blighted Paris suburb a decade ago.


The long-awaited and closely-watched verdict may revive memories of 2005 nationwide riots and stir up a new wave of mistrust, anger and violent protests, similar to those seen recently in the U.S.

The court in the western city of Rennes ruled that police officers Sebastien Gaillemin and Stephanie Klein were not responsible when two Muslim teenage boys chased by police entered a power substation to hide and were fatally electrocuted in October 2005.

Thousands of vehicles were torched, public buildings were burned and thousands of people were arrested in the three weeks of riots after the deaths of Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna.

The two police officers were facing up to five years in prison had they been convicted of failing to assist someone in danger.

The evening of Oct. 27, 2005, Gaillemin was chasing the three teenagers and saw them head toward the power station but did not help them avoid the potentially fatal danger or call emergency services. Instead, he said into his police radio: “If they enter the site, I wouldn’t pay much for their skins.”

Klein, an inexperienced police intern, was coordinating police radio communications during the tense situation and heard the remark.

Prosecutors repeatedly declined to bring the case against the officers, but were finally ordered to do so by France’s highest court. The prosecutor in Rennes, who was among those to refused originally, ultimately requested acquittal.

Early in the trial in March, the presiding judge insisted that the national police as a whole are not on trial. Even so, lawyers for both sides have emphasized the verdict’s wider significance.