‘I’m suffocating’: France probes man’s death in police custody

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French investigators have questioned four police officers over the January arrest of a Paris delivery driver who died of his injuries after they pinned him to the ground as he repeatedly shouted “I’m suffocating”, sources said Monday.

France has seen demonstrations in recent weeks against alleged brutality and racism by the police, a controversy that has gained resonance since protests erupted in the United States over the killing by police of George Floyd.

Cedric Chouviat, 42, had been stopped by police close to the Eiffel Tower in central Paris on January 3 for a traffic control which degenerated.

In video footage collected by investigators, he can be heard saying “I’m suffocating” a total of seven times in 22 seconds as police hold him down, according to a report on the incident written in April, first revealed Wednesday by newspaper Le Monde and website Mediapart and which AFP has also now seen.

His plea echoes Floyd’s last words “I can’t breathe,” which have rallied protesters across the world.

Father of five, Chouviat died in hospital two days later from asphyxia, with “a fracture to the larynx”, according to elements of the autopsy released by Paris prosecutors.

Prosecutors have opened a case for “involuntary homicide.”

None of the policemen involved, who were questioned last Wednesday, have been suspended.

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The police watchdog in charge of the investigation has transferred its findings to magistrates who will now decide whether the four will be considered as witnesses in the case or be charged.

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Video footage appears to show Chouviat with the weight of the police on his torso. According to two witnesses, the delivery driver was held in a chokehold.

Following demonstrations against alleged police brutality, officials announced the ban of the chokehold technique which critics say is too often deadly.

But shortly after, the government backtracked on the ban after a backlash by police unions, who demonstrated across France, throwing down their handcuffs in protest.

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