No Charges Filed Over Death of Adama Traoré in France

A high-profile investigation into the death of Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old Black Frenchman who died in police custody in 2016, was officially closed on Friday without any charges against the three officers involved, according to lawyers for both parties.

Charges had never been filed against the officers over the course of a contentious multiyear investigation that involved multiple, contradictory medical opinions. The closing of the case was widely expected.

But Mr. Adama’s death remains a rallying cry for those protesting discriminatory police violence in France, especially as the country grapples with the aftermath of a week of rioting in June. Those protests were set off by the deadly police shooting of Nahel Merzouk, a French teenager of North African descent.

Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for Mr. Adama’s family, said they would appeal the investigating magistrates’ decision to close the case without charges. In a statement, he accused the magistrates of being biased in favor of the officers, arguing that they had dismissed the case over “uncertainties” that should have been debated during a public trial.

“This order to dismiss the case, which contains contradictions, inconsistencies and serious violations of the law, is a disgrace to the judiciary,” Mr. Bouzrou said.

While the shooting of Mr. Merzouk was caught on a video that was shared widely, quickly creating outrage and prompting serious charges against the officer involved, the circumstances of Mr. Traoré’s death are still hotly disputed.

Mr. Traoré died in the courtyard of a police station on a scorching summer day in July 2016 after his arrest by gendarmes in Beaumont-sur-Oise, a town about 16 miles north of Paris.

The gendarmes, armed officers who police France’s smaller towns and rural areas, tried to check Mr. Traoré’s identification as part of an investigation into his brother, but Mr. Traoré fled and hid in a nearby apartment.

Three police officers tracked Mr. Traoré down and pinned him to the ground to arrest him. Afterward, Mr. Traoré reportedly said that he could not breathe and then passed out during his transfer to the police station in Persan, a nearby town, where he was pronounced dead two hours later.

Conflicting autopsies and expert reports have pointed to heart failure or asphyxiation as the cause of the death. Mr. Traoré’s family insists that he would not have died if the officers had not pinned him to the ground and if they had provided better assistance to him when he passed out.

But lawyers for the officers in the case, who have not been publicly identified, maintain that they used “professional and proportionate gestures” to subdue Mr. Traoré as he was resisting arrest and have said the lack of charges is “logical.”

“There was never any violence committed during the legitimate arrest of Adama Traoré,” Rodolphe Bosselut, one of the lawyers for the officers involved, said in a statement.

Despite the lack of clarity around Mr. Traoré’s death, his case and his family’s activism made him a symbol of deeply seated anger and mistrust toward the police in France’s poorer, minority-dominated urban enclaves.

That anger exploded in days of chaotic rioting, arson and looting after Mr. Merzouk’s death this summer, prompting the French government to swiftly deploy a large number of police officers around the country. The show of force ended the rioting within a week, but it led to new allegations of police brutality.

In one of the most prominent cases, four police officers in Marseille were charged with assault over accusations that they seriously injured a 22-year-old man, part of whose skull had to be removed.

One of the officers, who was suspected of firing a rubber bullet at the man, was then detained, infuriating police unions around the country, and leading some of them to stage walkouts. On Friday, the officer was freed but barred from working for the police while the investigation continues.

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