French police officers acquitted in deaths of teens that sparked riots a decade ago

Story highlights

  • The case has stretched on for nearly 10 years
  • Lawyers for plaintiffs warn of further unrest, say the acquittals will be appealed
  • A lawyer for the police officers says their suffering has now ended

Paris (CNN)Two French police officers have been acquitted in the deaths of two teens in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois nearly a decade ago.

Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouma Traore, 15, were electrocuted when they ran inside a power station to hide from police, sparking riots in French suburbs by people who believed French authorities treated the children of immigrants unfairly.
    A third youth, Muhittin Altun, 17, was severely burned but recovered.
    On Monday, a criminal court in the northwestern city of Rennes acquitted police officers Sebastien Gaillemin, 41, and Stephanie Klein. 38, of responsibility for the deaths.

    Deaths triggered weeks of unrest

    On October 27, 2005, in the suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois, northeast of Paris, police were called to a construction site regarding a possible break-in. Police chased the three teenagers, who hid in the power station.
    Their electrocution caused a blackout in the area -- and triggered protests by many French-born children of immigrant descent who believed they were unfairly stopped and searched by police because of their appearance.
    In the weeks of unrest that followed, many cars and some public buildings were set alight. And the country as a whole engaged in soul-searching over whether the children and grandchildren of immigrants were excluded from mainstream French society and employment.

    Lawyer for officers calls verdict the 'end of an ordeal'

    Lawyers said the plaintiffs in the case -- the families of the boys who died, along with Altun and his family -- were stunned and would appeal. And one of those lawyers warned that the problems that caused the unrest in 2005 persist.
    "If we do not manage the integration of youngsters from the council estates, I can assure you that France will go very badly," said the lawyer, Jean-Pierre Mignard, referring to public housing.
    Another lawyer for the plaintiffs, Emmanuel Tordjmann, said the ruling meant that the plaintiffs' "status as victims is not recognized legally, they are nothing."
    But Daniel Merchat, a lawyer for the police officers, called the ruling gratifying.
    "My two clients from day one have had the firm conviction that they committed no fault, no error, no offense," Merchat said. "So these nine years for them, too, have been nine years of suffering. So today this long path of suffering for them is over; it's over for them, and so they are relieved. For them to hear today the court say in an extremely detailed way that they were acquitted of the charges, it is the end of an ordeal."