Paris (CNN)"J'etouffe!" It's French, for "I'm suffocating" or "I can't breathe," and it was repeated seven times by a man in January as he was being pinned down by three police officers and as another filmed, near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They would be Cedric Chouviat's last words. The 42-year-old deliveryman and father of five died in a hospital two days later; his autopsy revealing a broken larynx, according to the prosecutor in the case.
After George Floyd, French police face fresh scrutiny over alleged brutality
The similarities with the case of George Floyd -- a Black American killed during a police arrest in the US city of Minneapolis -- don't end there. Chouviat's arrest, also captured on video, would, like Floyd's, become the focus of a wider campaign against police brutality. And as in the Floyd case, action against the officers would seem painfully slow in coming.
But six months after the death of Chouviat, who was of North African heritage, three of the police officers involved have now been placed under formal investigation, lawyers for the Chouviat family told CNN on Thursday. This, after audio of the incident -- captured by Chouviat's own phone -- was submitted to the investigating judge. The transcript of the recording, seen by CNN, shows that Chouviat repeated the words "j'etouffe" seven times. A lawyer for two of the police officers says his clients never heard the words as Chouviat was still wearing his motorcycle helmet at the time. All four officers deny any wrongdoing.
The case is one of two that have cast a harsh light on alleged police brutality in France and on the apparent impunity, some say, with which accusations of it are all too often met. Another, involving the death in police custody of Adama Traoré in a Paris suburb in 2016, has also seen fresh developments, with the testimony of two witnesses heard as part of the investigation last week.
But four years after the 24-year-old Black man died, no charges have been brought against the officers involved. Their lawyers point to a medical assessment that blames Traoré's death on a pre-existing condition that his family says he didn't have.