Algerian national Zineb Redouane died shortly after she was struck by a tear gas grenade in her apartment in Marseille. Two years after her tragic death, relatives have filed a legal complaint against former interior minister Christophe Castaner for “concealing evidence” while investigative journalists have challenged the findings of a ballistic report that cleared officers of wrongdoing.
On December 2, 2018, 80-year-old Zineb Redouane died on an operating table at La Conception hospital in Marseille, hours after she was struck by a tear gas grenade fired into her apartment by riot police.
Redouane, an Algerian national, was standing at the window of her fourth-floor apartment in central Marseille when the canister struck her in the face. Relatives said she was trying to shut her shutters amid the chaos of clashes between police and “Yellow Vest” anti-government protesters in her street.
Two years on, her daughter Milfed Redouane has filed a legal complaint at the Cour de justice de la République (CJR), a special court established to try cases of ministerial misconduct. The complaint targets Christophe Castaner, the interior minister at the time, whose statements in the wake of Redouane’s death sought to clear the police of all responsibility.
Yassine Bouzrou, a lawyer for Redouane’s daughter, has repeatedly accused the former minister and other senior officials of obstruction of justice. The complaint before the CJR – a rare occurence in France – takes matters a step further, formally accusing Castaner of “concealing and interfering with evidence”.
‘We must stop this talk of police violence’
Redouane’s tragic death came at the height of the Yellow Vest protest movement and its violent repression, which cast a stark light on the fearsome weapons used by riot police in France. It struck a city already gripped by anger and sorrow, coming just weeks after eight people – most of immigrant background – were killed in the collapse of several dilapidated buildings a few streets away.
Like other tragic incidents, it has become symbolic of what many in France regard as an institutional reluctance to investigate cases of police violence and acknowledge responsibility. Two years on, an investigation into Redouane’s death is still ongoing, and no officer has been charged or suspended over the fatal incident – a fact Bouzrou blames on decisions and statements made throughout the chain of command, leading all the way up to Castaner.
In the months following the fatal incident, Castaner, who now heads the ruling LREM party in France’s lower house of parliament, repeatedly claimed that Redouane’s death by cardiac arrest had no link with the police grenade.
“I will not let it be said that the police killed Zineb Redouane, because that is false,” he told France Inter radio on March 19, 2019. “We must stop this talk of police violence,” Castaner added, echoing President Emmanuel Macron’s claim, made earlier in the month, that “the words ‘police violence’ are unacceptable under the rule of law”.
In his defence, Castaner’s office said the former minister was merely repeating statements made by Marseille’s public prosecutor, Xavier Tarabeux, who has since been transferred to a different post. A day after Redouane’s death, Tarabeux said an autopsy had established that “facial shock” was not the cause of death. He added: “At this stage, no link can be established between the injury and her death.”
Since then, Redouane’s family has obtained the transfer of the investigation to another jurisdiction, arguing that the presence of one of Tarabeux’s deputies at the scene of the incident, in the company of police, compromised the probe’s impartiality.
In a series of complaints, Bouzrou has also accused police of concealing crucial evidence, including withholding the rifle grenade launchers used on the night of the fatal incident. He has contested claims by the Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale (IGPN), a police monitoring body, that the surveillance camera located in front of Redouan’s building was “inoperative” that night.
Interviewed by the IGPN in the wake of Redouane’s death, all five officers who were using rifle grenade launchers in the area that day denied involvement.
The complaint before the CJR comes as France’s government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn on its controversial plans to restrict the sharing of images of police on social media – a practise that has helped expose numerous cases of police misconduct in recent years. Media organisations and human rights watchdogs have warned that the plans would embolden officers to challenge anyone who films them.
In interviews with French media, Milfet Redouane has said she was on the phone with her mother when the latter was struck by the tear gas canister. She said her mother screamed that she had been targeted by police, suggesting that officers may have thought her mother was filming them from her window.
In June of this year, French daily Le Monde reported that a 73-page ballistics report penned by a police officer and a medical examiner had cleared officers of responsibility in Redouane’s death. The report, which relied on footage from other nearby surveillance cameras, concluded that the tear gas grenade was fired “in accordance with rules of engagement”.
Already disputed by Bouzrou, the report’s findings were categorically rejected on Monday in a separate study by the investigative website Disclose and the UK-based agency Forensic Architecture, which uses 3D-modelling to probe cases of state violence and human rights violations.
Their counter-investigation argued that “the presence of several buildings directly in front of the shooting officer should, at the very least, have constituted a red alert.” It noted that the Cougar-type launcher used in the incident has a range of approximately 100 metres and that the projectile struck Redouane “after 37 metres”, while it was still ascending, “collapsing” the right part of her face and causing her to inhale large quantities of tear gas.
“According to our investigation, the responsibility of the shooter and his supervisor in the death of Zineb Redouane is clear,” the study concluded.
Magistrates in Lyon, who are now in charge of the investigation, are yet to rule on the findings of the official ballistic report.