2 French police to stand trial in deaths of teens

AP News
Posted: Oct 22, 2010 9:44 AM
2 French police to stand trial in deaths of teens

Two French police officers will stand trial accused of failing to save the lives of two teens whose 2005 deaths sparked weeks of riots around the country, lawyers said Friday.

The officers will face charges of "non-assistance to a person in danger," said a lawyer for the victims' families, Jean-Pierre Mignard. The charge carries up to five years in prison and up to euro75,000 ($95,400) in fines.

Two boys, 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna, died while hiding from police in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on Oct. 27, 2005 when they were electrocuted. Another boy with them suffered severe burns.

Local youths blamed the police for the deaths and exploded in anger, setting cars ablaze and smashing store windows. That tapped a deep well of frustration among largely minority youth in poor housing projects nationwide, and fiery unrest spread across the country, raging for three weeks in the nation's housing projects. Tensions between youths and police still plague such neighborhoods.

The two who will stand trial are a police intern at the command post who was listening to radio communications from police at the scene, and an officer who allegedly saw the two teens enter the power substation.

The regional prosecutor's office sought last month to drop the charges against the police, saying there was not enough evidence to show that the officers knew the teens were inside the power station when they died. However, investigating judges, who have the final say, decided to override the request and send the case to trial.

Mignard welcomed the judges' decision. "This affair will not be stifled," he told The Associated Press.

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The lawyer for the police officers, Daniel Merchat, said his clients were "sacrificed on the altar of public opinion" and that there was not enough evidence of a crime.

Under French law, everyone _ not just police _ must try to help a person in danger as long as they or others aren't threatened by bringing such aid.

An internal police review of the electrocutions faulted police officers for their handling of the incident. It confirmed the officers had been chasing the teens before they were killed, which the Interior Ministry and police had initially denied. The report said officers should immediately have notified French energy company EDF that the youths were hiding in the power station.