Case of shooting by police in France to be reopened
07 November 1997
The case of the fatal shooting of an 8 year-old Romani boy by police in south ern France in August 1995 may shortly be reopened by the French courts.
According to Amnesty International (AI), the child, Todor Bogdanović was shot by a police officer on a mountain road between Breil-sur-Roya and Sospel on August 20, 1995. According to the report, the incident took place at around 3:30am, when four cars and two trailers containing 43 Roma in total approached a roadblock in the mountain pass to Sospel. The group was from Novi Pazar, a town in the Muslim region of Sandjak, Serbia. They were apparently hoping to secure political asylum in either France or Germany, having already travelled through Albania and Italy. The police manning the road block were from the Menton branch of a new police department, the Central Directorate for Immigration Control and for the Fight Against the Employment of Illegal Immigrants (Direction centrale du controle de l'immigration et de la lutte contre l'emploi des clandestins (DICCILEC).
The AI report states that the two DICCILEC officers had parked their car by the roadside. The police officers at the scene later claimed that they had both been in uniform and wearing reflective police vests and that there was a warning light operating. One of the officers, Mr. Christian Carenco, was reported as standing in the middle of the road, holding a pump-action shotgun. The first car to pass the roadblock was driven by the uncle of the victim. The victim's father drove the second car and Todor Bogdanović was asleep on the rear window shelf.
The Roma claim that far from the visible roadblock described by the police, they saw no warning light or uniforms, nor any indication of a police presence. A statement attributed to the deputy prosecutor of Nice, Mr Didier Durand, claimed that as the first car passed, Officer Carenco fired at it using rubber bullets. He then reloaded the gun with metal Brenneck bullets and fired twice at the second car. According to the ballistics report, Officer Carenco fired from a distance of 1.8 metres and at shoulder level. It was reportedly the second of the metal bullets that went through the rear window of the car and hit the child, piercing his shoulder and exiting his thorax. The convoy continued to Sospel, another 8 kilometres approximately, and upon reaching the town found a doctor. The doctor pronounced the child dead. The officers would appear not to have followed the Roma after they left the roadblock.
AI reports that a police enquiry was opened immediately after the incident by the General Inspectorate of the National Police (Inspection Generale de la Police Nationale, IGPN). Officer Carenco claimed that he had acted in self-defence, having felt threatened by what he described as the cars driving straight towards him. The inquiry, how ever, could not support the claim that his actions had been in self-defence and was reported to have concluded that the two shots fired at the second car had been premature. An investigation was opened on August 21, 1995, under Investigating Judge Pierre-Claude Scholem of the Nice tribunal. Officer Carenco was put under investigation for the charge of manslaughter and freed under judicial supervision. Mr Radoš Bogdanović and Mr Radoje Bogdanović, the father and uncle of the victim, filed a complaint as civil parties.
After the shooting, various government and judicial authorities in France made conflicting statements about the actions of the officers involved. According to the AI report, the gendarmes (police under the Ministry of Defence) stationed at Sospel were said to have been surprised that the DICCILEC officers opened fire on the Roma when they should have chased them. However, on August 22, 1995, the French Minister of Justice, Jacques Toubon, is said to have declared on French television that the two officers acted correctly to the best of his knowledge. The Magistrates Union (Syndicat de la Magistrature) then publicly denounced this statement as it seemed to suggest that the police had not been in the wrong, despite the fact that a police inquiry had established misuse of the firearm and a judicial inquiry was pending.
Notably, the French Police Training Manual offers an example almost identical to the circumstances in which Todor Bogdanović died. According to the police training manual, "If there is the slightest possibility of the police officer avoiding, without serious consequences for himself or others [...] an illegal attack [...] he must opt for this solution rather than use his weapon. For example, if a vehicle is driven intentionally at the officer and he has the time and is physically able to move aside [...] he should do so rather than use his weapon. Once the vehicle has passed, the criteria for legitimate defence no longer existing, the use of the weapon by the officer is forbidden."
The members of the convoy applied for asylum immediately. According to AI, the immediate family of Todor Bogdanović was granted permission to remain in France until mid-December, but the rest of the convoy was expelled from the country on August 21, 1995, one day after the killing of Todor Bogdanović. At least one of the expellees is thought to have witnessed the shooting. A reconstruction of the incident took place at the end of August 1995, but according to the AI report, although the father and uncle of the victim took part, no other Roma witness was present or even questioned in relation to the incident before their expulsion from the country. On June 2, 1997, almost two years after the incident, the Council of State, the highest legal body in France, annulled the expulsion order. It stated that the order was illegal and that the Prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes had exceeded his jurisdiction in expelling the Roma.
AI reports that in November 1996, the Minister of Justice at that time allegedly requested that the Public Prosecutor rule that there were no grounds for prosecution. In December 1996, the French courts did this, stating that the officer Could have legitimately believed that his life was in danger. The case now appears to have been reopened however.
An initial hearing was set for September 18. On September 12, the ERRC wrote a letter to the President of the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence, expressing concern about the way in which the case was handled and urging a proper investigation. On October 6, the ERRC learned that the hearing had been postponed to November 20. The lawyer for the victim's family fears that his clients may leave the country beforehand, how ever, as they have no way of supporting themselves.