A French court on Tuesday found three police officers guilty of manslaughter over the death of a Black man in Paris in 2015.
Each was sentenced to a 15-month suspended jail term, a judge said.
Amadou Koume died after he was pinned to the ground by officers in a bar, put in a chokehold and subsequently left on his front, his hands cuffed behind his back, for more than six minutes.
Koume, whose name has become a protest slogan against police violence in some communities, died as the result of slow “mechanical asphyxia” according to a medical expert, the court heard during the trial.
“To hear the word ‘guilty’ is satisfying, but the sentence is relatively lenient,” Eddy Arneton, a lawyer for the Koume family, told reporters after the verdict.
The prosecutor had sought a one-year suspended sentence, deeming that necessary and proportionate force had been used to immobilise Koume but that the officers were negligent in leaving him on his front.
Following Koume’s death, 24-year-old Black Frenchman Adama Traore died in the custody of French police in a Paris suburb, in July 2016.
Traore was apprehended by three gendarmes following a dispute over an identity check. He reportedly lost consciousness in their vehicle and died at a nearby police station.
News of Traore’s death caused anger and despair in the suburbs.
Days of protests followed and some members of the local community clashed with police, setting cars and buildings alight.
Rights groups say accusations of brutal, racist treatment of residents of often immigrant backgrounds by French police remain largely unaddressed, in particular in deprived city suburbs.
In 2020, public anger swelled over racial discrimination following the death of George Floyd in the United States at the hands of police. Caught on video, Floyd’s death sparked worldwide protests by hundreds of thousands of people that rocked politics in the US and beyond.
The French government at the time promised “zero tolerance” for racism within law enforcement agencies.
Police unions responded by accusing the government of scapegoating it for deep-rooted divisions in French society.