France investigates man’s death after subway security check

September 24, 2021 GMT

PARIS (AP) — French authorities have launched an investigation into the asphyxiation death of a 37-year-old man after subway security agents detained him in the southern city of Marseille.

The death Thursday came as arrest techniques have been under heightened criticism in France following multiple cases of abuse or fatal arrests.

An investigation is ongoing for “voluntary violence causing involuntary death” which will determine the circumstances of the man’s death and the proportionality of the agents’ response, the Marseille prosecutor’s office said Friday.

According to the Marseille subway agency RTM, the man was stopped after getting out of the train and before exiting the station. RTM CEO Hervé Baccaria told The Associated Press the man was “aggressive” and punched an agent. According to the prosecutor, he resisted being stopped.

The man’s mother told local newspaper La Provence that he had a “mental disability that prevented him from understanding things and explaining himself clearly.” The prosecutor’s office did not respond to queries about the case, including about his reported disability.


The man was brought to the ground by RTM agents, who called the police. According to the prosecutor, by the time police arrived, he was unresponsive. He was put in the recovery position but died despite attempts to revive him.

Baccaria said the station’s cameras were functioning but it is unclear whether they captured the incident, as it may have happened in a blind spot.

For Olivier Cahn, a criminal justice expert at the state research institution CNRS, “at first look, there is no problem with the arrest, there’s a problem with the person dying of it.“ Because of it, “there is a question of necessity and proportionality,” Cahn told the Associated Press.

The technique the agents used to immobilize the man is not clear. RTM agents are trained to “immobilize and stop a person whose behavior is deemed needing the intervention of police,” Baccaria said.

France’s Interior Ministry has been reassessing police arrest methods, particularly in the wake of the global protests unleashed by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota last year.

France’s government banned the chokehold arrest technique earlier this year. Police used the method on Cedric Chouviat in 2020, a delivery driver who was asphyxiated during a police stop, a case that called national attention to the issue.