June 23, 2020 / 12:16 PM / 11 days ago

Family of French driver demand answers over death during police traffic stop

PARIS (Reuters) - The family of Cedric Chouviat, a French delivery driver who died in January after being stopped by police, on Tuesday demanded answers about his death from President Emmanuel Macron.

The 42-year-old died after being pinned to the ground during a traffic check. Questions over his death have resurfaced after the killing of George Floyd in the United States ignited global protests against alleged police brutality.

Chouviat’s father said his son had said he could not breathe — the same words spoken by Floyd — based on video footage of his arrest in January that was subsequently leaked to French media such as Le Monde and Mediapart.

“He was shouting out, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’,” Christian Chouviat told reporters at a news conference organised by the family.

“I am addressing myself directly to President Macron,” added Chouviat’s daughter Sofia. “We want answers.”

Family members have said autopsy results showed a fracture to Chouviat’s larynx, and they urged Macron to change some methods used by the police when making arrests, to make them less violent.

Officials at the French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

A judicial source said Paris prosecutors had opened a manslaughter inquiry into Chouviat’s death. The four police officers involved in Chouviat’s arrest are due to be questioned over the incident.

Chouviat’s family expressed anger that the officers had not been suspended.

Denis Jacob, from the Alternative Police trade union, denied the officers had acted illegally, saying that they had had to restrain Chouviat because he had not behaved in a calm manner.

“The judicial authorities must shed all light on the matter,” he told BFM TV.

Laurent-Franck Lienard, part of the legal team representing the police officers, told LCI television the police had never heard Chouviat say he was having breathing difficulties while they restrained him in January.

The killing of Floyd in May has reignited protests in France against alleged police brutality, with trouble breaking out at demonstrations this month.

Rights groups say accusations of police violence, in particular in deprived suburbs where residents are often of immigrant background, remain largely unaddressed.

Police unions have accused Macron and his government of showing disrespect after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner this month promised “zero tolerance” for racism within law enforcement agencies and banned a chokehold used to detain suspects.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Alison Williams

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