Four police officers were detained in Seine-Saint-Denis, a suburb northeast of the French capital, on charges of having sexually assaulted a 22-year-old man with a baton. The charges were later changed to “voluntary violence,” sparking controversy.
The man alleges that the police officers used force during an ID check on Thursday, with one of them thrusting his baton into his anus. The alleged assault took place not in a vehicle or at the police station, but on the street, he said, as cited by AFP.
The man suffered severe wounds, underwent emergency surgery, and was advised by doctors to stay away from work for 60 days, sources close to investigation told French media.
The local public prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the incident, to be carried out by the General Inspector of the National Police (IGPN).
The alleged assault took place in the commune of Aulnay-Sous-Bois and was captured on film by surveillance cameras belonging to local police, which shows a police officer delivering a horizontal blow with his baton to the buttocks of the young man after his pants “dropped by themselves,” AFP reported, citing a source close to the investigation.
Parts of the video from a surveillance camera, showing a dark-skinned man subdued by police at a distance, have been released by Le Parisien TV. A witness in the video report shows blood at the alleged site of the man’s interaction with police.
The young man was taken to the hospital. The doctor who examined him said he had suffered “a longitudinal wound in the anal canal” and “a section of the sphincter muscle.”
Arriving at the police station, the young man complained “of bleeding in the mouth and anus,” a source close to the investigation told Le Parisien.
The officers, who deny the charges, have seen their initial detention period extended by 24 hours.
Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux has highlighted the need to “shed light on the extremely serious charges against these officials,” Le Parisien reported.
On Sunday, the charges against the police officers were changed to “voluntary violence.” The mayor of the commune, where the incident happened, was quick to condemn the prosecutors’ decision on his Facebook page.
“Today, the prosecutor’s office announces requalification of the charges to “voluntary violence” with aggravating circumstances,” Bruno Beschizza wrote. “I do not understand this requalification. We, the Aulnaysians [those living in Aulnay-Sous-Bois], can not understand this requalification. It is perceived as a misrepresentation of the truth.”
The post has collected dozens of comments with many praising the mayor for his stance, while others urging to wait and see for the results of the investigation. Some have been doubting the mayors sincerity, accusing him of making the statement only for the sake of appeasing “the young people who would be ready for a new ‘uprising’ in the suburbs.”
There have already been reports of tensions in the commune with a population of 3,000 people, with a car being burnt and an attempt to set a bus on fire Saturday night, according to a police source cited by Le Figaro.