France releases policeman behind killing of teen that sparked riots

Wednesday 15 Nov 2023

French authorities Wednesday released from custody a police officer who shot dead a teenager during traffic controls this year in a killing that sparked over a week of nationwide rioting, prosecutors said.

Nahel was killed on June 27, as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction. AFP


The officer fatally wounded Nahel M., 17, during a traffic stop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre on June 27, with massive police deployments unable to contain often violent protests on successive nights that caused significant damage to businesses and property.

The 38-year-old officer, identified only as Florian M., has already been charged with murder. While he is no longer in jail ahead of trial, he is under judicial supervision which means restrictions are still placed on his movements.

Investigating magistrates agreed to the latest request by the officer's lawyer for a conditional release, but said he is banned from speaking to witnesses or plaintiffs, going near the scene of the shooting and carrying a weapon, the office of the Nanterre prosecutor told AFP.

Following new questioning of the officer last Thursday, the investigating magistrates ruled that "the legal criteria for the pre-trial detention of the police officer incarcerated since June 29, 2023, no longer appear to be met, at this stage of the investigation."

France deployed 45,000 officers backed by light armoured vehicles during the protests, while special police units and other security forces fanned out across the country to quell violence.

Nahel was killed as he pulled away from police who were trying to stop him for a traffic infraction.

A video, authenticated by AFP, showed two police officers standing by the side of the stationary car, with one pointing a weapon at the driver.

A voice is heard saying: "You are going to get a bullet in the head."

The police officer then appears to fire as the car abruptly drives off.

Clashes first erupted as the video emerged, contradicting police accounts that the teenager was driving at the officer.

'Blame one person' 

The officer's lawyer, Laurent-Franck Lienard, said his client had apologised as he was taken into custody.

The day after the shooting Nahel's mother, Mounia, told France 5 television: "I don't blame the police, I blame one person: the one who took the life of my son."

She said the officer "saw an Arab face, a little kid, and wanted to take his life".

A memorial march for Nahel, led by Mounia, ended with riot police firing tear gas as several cars were set alight in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, where the teenager lived and died.

But police union Unite SGP Police said it was "relieved" by the release while Julien Schenardi of the Alliance union described the pre-trial detention as "totally unjustified and unfair".

The riots brought back memories of the 2005 urban riots, sparked by the death of two boys of African origin in a police chase, during which 6,000 people were arrested.

French President Emmanuel Macron called for calm and said the protest violence was "unjustifiable".

The killing and ensuing rioting posed often uncomfortable questions for France about police brutality, living conditions in urban suburbs and integration into an intensely multicultural society.

Nahel grew up on an estate called Pablo Picasso in Nanterre, a Parisian suburb home to many immigrants.

His mother, whose family is from Algeria raised him alone.

Nahel had no criminal record. The Nanterre prosecutor said there had been incidents of refusing to stop for police checks. He had been summoned to appear before a court for minors in September.

The patrolling officers said he had caught their attention because of reckless driving.

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