French police officers charged over death of man put in chokehold

Three French police officers have been charged with manslaughter over the death of a delivery man who was pinned to the ground and put in a chokehold during an arrest in January.

Cédric Chouviat, 42, died in hospital two days after a heated exchange with the officers. He was held down while still wearing his scooter helmet for about 20 seconds, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Chouviat, who was of North African heritage, said: “I’m suffocating” seven times before his body went limp, according to a review of video footage of the incident by investigators.

Protests have taken place across France in recent weeks against alleged police brutality and racism. They were sparked by a report clearing the officers who arrested Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man who died in police custody in 2016. One of the officers admitted the young man was pinned to the ground with their combined bodyweight.

The incident has gained resonance since mass protests erupted in the US over the killing of George Floyd, a black man who similarly died after being pinned to the ground by police as he said: “I can’t breathe.”

Chouviat was rushed to hospital in a critical condition but died of asphyxiation, with a fracture of the larynx, according to a prosecutor’s report.

Two of the officers involved in Chouviat’s his arrest were charged last week, a judicial source told AFP, and a third on Thursday, according to his lawyer. A fourth police officer is under investigation but has not been charged.

Chouviat’s family said a charge of manslaughter was too lenient “for the violence and aggressiveness of the police officers”, as seen in video footage captured by witnesses.

“Voluntary blows led to the death of Cédric Chouviat,” the family said in a statement. A charge of “voluntary violence” could carry a higher penalty than manslaughter under French law.

The family has asked that the restraint techniques used on Chouviat – a chokehold in a face-down position while pressure is applied to the torso – be banned.

The former interior minister Christophe Castaner announced a ban on chokeholds in June but backtracked after a backlash by police who protested across France.