In Marseille the French Police Smashed the Skull of a Young Woman on the Ground

Maria, 19, filed a complaint on April 30th at the Marseilles public prosecutor’s office for attempted murder, aggravated voluntary violence, and the non-rendering of assistance to people in danger. On December 8th, on the sidelines of a Yellow Vests demonstration, she was kicked and beaten by police officers. Her brain, in particular, was damaged.

On December 8th 2018, in Marseilles, Maria*, 19, was seriously injured by the police. First hit by a flash ball launcher shot at her thigh, the young woman, who collapsed on the ground, was then violently beaten and kicked in the head.

At the hospital, she was operated on in an emergency basis for a“right craniofacial trauma by a truncheon stroke and right frontal blemish with cerebral contusion”. In other words, Maria has a fractured skull and her brain has been hit. It was only in April, five months later, that she was able to resume her job as a saleswoman, which she did alternately with her studies. Still under medical supervision, she is also followed by a psychiatrist, given her “acute state of stress” associated with “frequent nightmares”, according to the medical report.

Her lawyer, Brice Grazzini, filed a complaint on Tuesday, April 30th, with the prosecutor of Marseille against “unnamed persons, however identified as exercising a police function”, for “attempted murder”, “aggravated voluntary violence”, “not rendering assistance to a person in danger”, and “non-prevention of the commission of an offence”.

What happened on Saturday, December 8th, 2018?

On that day, at around 6 pm, Maria left her shop in the city center where she works in order to join her friend and then return home.

They took Saint-Ferréol road, a shopping street that earlier in the day was the scene of clashes as a part of Act 4 of “Yellow Vests” and the mobilisation against unhealthy housing in Marseille. Not far away, on the Canebière and the Vieux-Port, clashes continued between protesters and the law enforcement officers who crisscross the periphery of the adjacent streets.

“I was with my friend and the police officers told us that they were forming a security perimeter. We then took the direction of my home,” explained Maria to Mediapart.

Six persons present gave their testimonies as part of the complaint. Among them, Olivia said that “the demonstrations of the afternoon had just ended and groups of CRS and police continued to occupy the main streets by blocking access or passage. There were a few people, of different ages, walking along Saint-Ferréol road. Nobody had threatening attitudes. Everyone was calm.”

In the images that Mediapart could see, the street seemed to be relatively quiet. Police were present, some young people too, and firefighters were extinguishing garbage fires.

“When suddenly a group of men, dressed in black and armed with clubs, rushed forward and shouted in my direction,” said Olivia in her statement, specifying that: “I immediately identified them as members of law enforcement. I had the quick reflex to pull myself away by putting myself against the wall of the building wall next door to avoid being hit in the process.”

These facts are confirmed by Camille, also present during the sudden and unexplained police charge. She testified: “While we were a few people walking calmly down Saint-Ferréol road, without clashes around us, a line of CRS and agents of the Anti-Crime Brigade fired projectiles (I do not know of what nature) and started to quickly come closer to us. Many of us ran to the first side street (rue de la Glace) to take shelter. I heard a cry of pain and I saw someone fall, a girl.”

The “girl” was Maria. “When the police charged, I did not understand the situation. I never protested and I was very scared. I ran to the first side street, rue de la Glace, but was shot in the leg. I screamed because I had a lot of pain in my leg. I fell to the ground.”

The rest is chilling. Several stories recount a scene “loaded with violence”.
Seeing Maria wounded by the flash ball shot, “people started shouting ‘someone is on the ground!’,” reported Laurence. “At the same time, this person on the ground was surrounded by police officers and was clubbed violently whilst being on the ground. […] At that moment, I was shocked. The scene was loaded with violence. I realised that truncheons violently hit the person continuously for a while.”

Camille saw “more than ten police officers in jeans, helmets, truncheons in their hands and an armband on their arm, running and taking turns to beat and kick the person on the ground.”

Another witness contacted by “Mediapart”, Denise, is still moved at the mention of this evening. “Just in front of me, there was this girl, small, who fell. And there, a swarm of policemen, mostly in plainclothes, helmeted, rush into the small street and give, by the way, truncheon blows and kicked the girl while she was on the ground.”

Denise is categorical: “There were at least three truncheon blows, and three different police officers, and a kick in the face. Afterwards, I was moved away by a policeman.”

She wasn’t the only one to be pushed back. “Despite the fact that the police forbade me to join her, I insisted and managed to pass,” says Lucie. “Arriving at her, I found other people who came to her rescue and I noticed that her head was caved in and bleeding. There were traces of blood on the floor, even on the walls. […] The plainclothes police left without even checking her condition.”

Another witness made the same observation: “As we approached, all the police around the person on the ground dispersed. We found her condition very disturbing since she had an open wound on her head.”

“I do not know if this complaint will succeed”

“The assault took place at around 6:40 pm. I say assault because there’s no other word,” said Denise, who called the fire department while a nurse was giving Maria first aid. “We gathered around her because there were still policemen down the street and we were afraid they would do the same again,” she says.

Maria is still having trouble coming back to this moment. “I remember that I had a lot of pain in my leg when I fell to the ground. Then everything went very fast. Police officers came up on me and I was hit in the head and I felt heat. I was so shocked. The blows continued. Then I felt myself leaving when people came to help me.”

Stunned, all the witnesses at the scene do not manage to understand the reasons for this acharnement.

Mediapart was able to watch several videos of the facts. In one of them, we see a person on the ground, surrounded by police, plainclothes, an armband on their arm, and we hear people telling these agents: “Gently, stop, she did nothing! She fell, you arrived and you smashed her.”

In another video, several Anti-Crime Brigade police officers roam the street, one hit the wall with a truncheon and gives a roar, while another says, “It is only a matter of time” – remarks noted by the author of the images.

For her part, Maria remade the thread of this end of the day and concedes “to have foolishly launched firecrackers on the ground. It’s silly, I know. We bought them with my friend to use them at a football game night. But if that’s the problem, I do not understand, because at the moment we were not told anything. The police charge must have arrived at least 15 minutes later.”

“Is hitting a girl’s head so violently while she is on the ground, already wounded in the leg by a flashball shot, justifiable?” asked the lawyer Brice Grazzini. In order to prevent this violence committed by police officers from going unpunished, he decided to hit hard, filing a complaint for “attempted murder by a person in charge of public authority.”

“The police were also guilty of the ‘non-rendering of assistance to a person in danger’ and, since no one intervened to stop the violence, the ‘non-prevention of the commission of an offence’,” he specified.

Since December 19th “the IGPN was informed following the report by my client of the violence that she was a victim of. It’s April and she has not been questioned yet. We must not rely on the IGPN, which is a judge and a party, to prosecute their own agents,” said Brice Grazzini, who also alerted the Defender of Rights.

Contacted by Mediapart, the IGPN said it wouldn’t “communicate on the reports and follow-up given,” referring to the official figure given by the Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner of 220 investigations opened for police violence and entrusted to the IGPN since act 1 of Yellow Vests. From judicial sources, reported by Le Figaro on Friday, April 26th, twenty-five procedures have already been closed.

Will these investigations succeed? There are doubts about them being pursued.

The state stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the facts. And this despite the number of victims and the evidence brought forward. Prosecutors, meanwhile, seem to follow this movement, at the risk of providing a guarantee of impunity to the police.

The UN has recently denounced this hypocrisy. Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for “an in-depth investigation into all reported cases of excessive use of force” in a speech to the Human Rights Council on March 6th in Geneva.

The French government believes that “at no time was a flash ball launcher used against demonstrators, even vehemently, if they haven’t committed physical violence, including against the police, or serious damage. But then it is no longer about protesters, but about participants in a violent and illegal gathering”.

He added that the means of intermediate strength, truncehons, tear gas grenades in particular, allow to maintain a “distance that ensures maximum safety […] avoiding direct contact and subsequent injuries.”

The lie of the French government is at the height of the police violence it tries to hide. Edifying.

“I do not know if this complaint will succeed,” said Maria. “My mother helped me to make the case and to collect the testimonies when I was hospitalised,” she explains, noting that she did not want to alert her in the very evening of the events. “She has diabetes and I was afraid of her reaction. But, in the emergency department, before my surgery, the nurse forced me to call her, saying, ‘if you die during the procedure, your family must be notified’.”

Today, the young woman suffers from memory problems. “I recovered the sight of my right eye, that’s already something. There was blood inside that has since resorbed. I feel that my brain takes the time to rebuild itself but it draws all the strength of my body. A truncheon blow can have irreversible effects, that’s what makes me worry,” she says.

“I am appalled by what I see in the course of the proceedings I handle for cases of ‘police violence’. The injuries of my clients are extremely serious and it is obvious that this is an illustration of the current trend of management of events by the government. When I defend people prosecuted for violence, the proceedings are quick and people are sentenced if they are guilty,” said the lawyer Brice Grazzini.

“Here, everything is complicated,” he continues, “complaints are difficult to file, judicial proceedings are slow or non-existent, and the worst is to hear the competent authorities anticipate the results of an investigation by alleging that no violence illegitimate was committed by police forces. When I see what is happening in the case of Maria or in that of Ms. Zineb Redouane, whose son I defend, it is unacceptable. Even minors are heavily targeted and abused… “

That same evening, in Marseille and in the same area, while he was not taking part in the demonstrations, a 14-year-old boy was shot by a flash ball launcher in the head, causing a head trauma with a loss of consciousness and an occipital fracture and wound.

“We have the impression that a neighbourhood is the playground of a horde of savages. But these people were police officers,” said lawyer Brice Grazzini.


*The names of the witnesses and Maria have been changed to preserve their anonymity.

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