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Three French police officers get suspended jail terms for 2017 assault on a Black man that shocked France

Theodore Luhaka (REUTERS)
Theodore Luhaka (REUTERS)

Three police officers in France who brutally assaulted a 22-year-old Black man during his arrest in 2017 have been convicted and handed suspended jail sentences in the country’s one of most high-profile abuses by the police.

Officer Marc-Antoine Castelain was given one year suspended prison sentence for “intentional violence” and two others were given three months suspended sentences.

The young man, Theodore Luhaka, suffered irreversible anal injuries after he sustained a four-inch tear in his rectum during his arrest nearly seven years ago.

The assault happened during a stop-and-search in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. He said he was beaten, racially abused and spat at by the officers.

The case grabbed international headlines and sparked protests and unrest in the Paris suburb with several cars set on fire, bus windows smashed and street lights damaged.

Mr Luhaka did not react to the sentencing or say a word to the media persons who had gathered outside the courtroom but stood behind his attorney who called the ruling a “victory”.

“They said once again that Théo was a victim that day and nothing justified his beating,” his lawyer Antoine Vey said.

The two other officers, Jeremie Dulin, 42, and Tony Hochart, 31, who were present, and who gave blows to Mr Luhaka during his arrest, were each given three months suspended sentences.

Théodore Luhaka arrives for the trial in Bobigny near Paris in January (REUTERS)
Théodore Luhaka arrives for the trial in Bobigny near Paris in January (REUTERS)

Castelain was sentenced for voluntary violence for beating Mr Luhaka and causing him serious anal injuries with a police baton, leaving him incontinent.

The sentencing on Friday sparked protests outside the courtroom as several said it was lenient and called for police officers to serve time in prison.

Following the sentencing, protesters in the courthouse raised slogans calling for police to serve prison time.

“It is a masquerade to have a suspended [sentence] for mutilating Theo for life,” said one of the protesters, Samia El Khalfaoui, whose nephew Souheil was killed by a police officer in 2021.

The judges ruled that the harm inflicted on Mr Luhaka did not qualify as a permanent disability. Rape charges, which were initially filed against Castelain, were dismissed prior to the trial.

Under French law, a suspended sentence entails that the offender avoids imprisonment for a designated period, on the condition that they refrain from committing another criminal offence and meet other specified obligations.

The three officers, all of whom had pleaded not guilty, argued that Mr Luhaka had violently resisted arrest. They claimed they were acting in self-defence within a challenging environment and under stressful conditions. They claimed that the baton aimed at Mr Luhaka was directed toward his upper thigh, a technique taught at the police academy.

Theodore Luhaka (known as
Theodore Luhaka (known as "Theo") arrives with his brother and his lawyer Antoine Vey (REUTERS)

Prosecutor Loic Pageot had requested a three-year suspended prison sentence for Castelain and deemed Mr Luhaka’s injury as a permanent disability. He sought suspended prison sentences of six months and three months for the other two officers.

"We need a police that protects us, not police officers like these who employ gratuitous violence," he told the court on Thursday, describing the violence as unnecessary and "vengeful" as Mr Luhaka did not pose an immediate threat.

Mr Luhaka, now 29, had told the Assizes court in Bobigny: “ I felt like I was raped”. He said he has been "living dead" since the arrest.

He told reporters ahead of the verdict that the length of the sentence did not matter to him as long as the officers were found guilty and that the truth was told.

Mr Luhaka was a young sports mentor with a clean record and aspired to start a professional football career in Belgium.

Additional reporting with agencies