French police accused of killing boy: What do we know about the case?

The incident in Nanterre has sparked violence on the streets and dominated French news bulletins

The incident has shocked France and prompted clashes in Paris, but the interior minister called for calm pending police investigations into the shooting
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A teenage driver has been shot dead by police in Nanterre, in the western suburbs of Paris, after allegedly failing to comply with police instructions. We look at what is known so far.

What happened and when?

The driver had been stopped by police in Nanterre, west of Paris, on Tuesday, June 27, reports AFP news agency.

The check happened at around 08:30, near the Nanterre-Préfecture RER station, behind the business district of La Défense.

The 17-year-old, who was too young to legally hold a driving licence in France, was still in his yellow, rented Mercedes AMG car when he was approached by two police officers.

One of the officers used his gun against the boy, allegedly after the victim failed to comply with instructions and restarted his vehicle, reported AFP. As the vehicle sped away, one of the officers shot at the car and a bullet passed through the open window, added the news agency.

The car then crashed a few dozen metres up the road. The driver later died of his injuries, caused by the gun bullet, despite the emergency services being called and attempting to resuscitate him.

The public prosecutor stated: “His death was confirmed at 09:15 following at least one injury by a firearm.”

A video of the incident was posted on Twitter. It has been verified as genuine by the AFP.

What do we know about the victim?

He was 17 years old and prosecutors have identified him as Nahel M. He is also being referred to as Naël.

He had rented the vehicle, and had previously committed several road offences, said the Nanterre prosecutor. He was also already known to police because of previous times he had refused to cooperate with law enforcement officers.

Two other people were in the vehicle with the driver at the time of the incident. One passenger fled the scene, while another, who was also under 18, was arrested and placed in police custody.

What action has the police taken?

Initially, the police said the boy had driven in the direction of the police officers, but the verified video circulating online suggests otherwise.

The police force has confirmed the two officers shown in the video are members of the Hauts-de-Seine territorial traffic and road safety unit, which is part of the regional motorbike division of la Direction de l’ordre public et de la circulation.

The police officer suspected of firing the fatal shot has been taken into custody. He was tested for alcohol and drug use, and both tests came back negative, the public prosecutor has said.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said that administrative and/or judicial measures would be taken against him if the investigations required it, and if they found that his actions “did not comply with the laws of the Republic…as these images appear to show”.

The Nanterre police station and the Hauts-de-Seine police force have now opened an investigation into the alleged charges against the boy, including refusal to obey orders and attempted voluntary manslaughter of a public official.

The IGPN, the “police of the police force”, has also been tasked with another investigation into the police officer’s actions, into the charge of “voluntary manslaughter by a public official”.

Mr Darmanin confirmed on Twitter: “Following the death this morning, of a young driver being checked by two police officers, the IGPN has been tasked with shedding light on the circumstances of this incident.”

What has been the reaction?

Legal case announced

The family of the deceased has already instructed a lawyer, Yassine Bouzrou, who has announced that they will be bringing legal action.

The lawyer told BFMTV that in the video footage of the scene, "you can clearly see a police officer shooting a young man in cold blood”.

He said: "We are nowhere near legitimate self-defence. All of the basic rules have been broken. This is clearly deliberate homicide.”

Local unrest

Clashes with police erupted in Hauts-de-Seine, Ile-de-France, and some other areas, on the night of June 27 following the incident.

Mr Darmanin said he had instructed 2,000 police to patrol the Parisien banlieues (suburbs) to avoid further unrest. A total of 31 people were arrested in connection with the clashes, around 40 cars were burnt out, and 24 police officers were injured. One official building was reportedly set alight.

He said: “I am calling for calm, and the truth of the judicial inquiry to come out.”

Other authorities have also called for people to reserve judgement until the investigations have been carried out.

Paris police prefect Laurent Nuñez told BFMTV: "I am concerned by this incident, and I expect light to be shed on this affair as quickly as possible. There will be an investigation to determine the conditions in which all this occurred.”

Political reaction

Patrick Jarry, Nanterre’s mayor, said in a statement: "[I am] moved by the death of the young man.” He said that he sent condolences to the boy’s mother, as well as to his family and friends.

He added that he hoped the investigations would “shed light on the exact circumstances of this tragedy as quickly as possible” and “called on everyone to show restraint and dignity, despite the legitimate feelings caused by this tragedy”.

Green MP Sandrine Rousseau said that “refusal to comply should not be a death sentence”, while Socialist MP Olivier Faure added that “refusal to comply doesn’t give [police] the right to kill”.

In contrast, police unions have said that “refusal to comply puts the lives of police officers and the public in danger”.

Mr Darmanin said that he found the video of the incident “extremely shocking”, but that people must respect both “the family’s grief, and also the presumption of innocence of the police”.

Celebrity reaction

High-profile figures including footballer Kylian Mbappé and actor Omar Sy have tweeted their reaction to the incident.

Mr Mbappé said: “My France is hurting. An unacceptable situation. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Naël, this little angel who left far too soon.”

Mr Sy, star of the Netflix show Lupin, tweeted a photo of the victim and said: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Naël, who died at the age of 17 this morning, killed by a police officer in Nanterre. May justice worthy of the name honour the memory of this child.”

Rise of ‘failure to comply’ cases

The ‘refusal to comply with instructions’ refrain has been heard in increasing numbers of police incidents in recent years in France.

In 2022, 13 deaths were recorded due to ‘failure to comply’ during vehicle roadside checks, according to police. This was a record.

Two weeks ago, a 19-year-old man was killed by a police officer, after he injured the officer in the legs with his car, near Angoulême.

It comes after a law in 2017 changed police rules on using weapons. And in 2021, there were 27,700 cases of ‘refusal to comply’ recorded, a 50% rise over the past 10 years, official figures show.

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