The gray areas of the IGPN inquiry into the death of Steve Maia Caniço are patent. According to our information, the head of the CRS unit present on the scene was not interviewed, and the IGPN did not make public the conclusions of an operation report on the assessment of the use of force. Mediapart publishes an excerpt.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner promise “transparency” and “light” on the police operations and the death of Steve Maia Caniço that occurred at the music festival in Nantes. However, it will not be the investigation of the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN), whose conclusions were made public on July 30th, that will meet this concern for clarity.
Several elements were overlooked. According to sources close to the investigation, the IGPN did not see fit to interview the commander of the CRS unit that intervened on site a few minutes after the police operation. And for good reason, the observations recorded in a report made by his unit devastate the procedure chosen by the police.
As we reported, CRS refused to use tear gas because of the risk of falling. This report of the CRS unit has been appended to the IGPN report. On the other hand, no extract has been made public.
Pointing at the prefecture and the town hall, the Prime Minister whitewashed the police (read here) by retreating behind the findings of the IGPN report – that “there can be no link between the intervention of the police forces and the disappearance of Steve Maia Caniço”. This police intervention would therefore be consistent and adapted to the situation. However, this exercise that IGPN has carried out to protect the police does not stand up to the facts.
Contacted by Mediapart, a policeman specialised in the maintenance of order is angry.
“The first question to ask, at the police level, concerning giving the order to intervene, is to know under which conditions to do it. Was it necessary to withdraw or continue the intervention, and in this case, was it necessary to use force? Even though the findings point to the massive use of tear gas and problems in the conduct of operations, the IGPN is burying all police responsibility.”
According to this same police officer, far from supporting the police, this report may ultimately harm the institution, unable to accept its mistakes. “This report goes so far as to question the reasons why young people have fallen into the water. They did not go there for fun,” he continues.
He also notes the inconsistency of having entrusted this investigation to a “commander”, a rank that is below the commissioner Grégoire Chassaing, in charge of the intervention, and Thierry Palermo, deputy director of public security (DDSP), in charge of operations, in the command room on the night of the events.
“In the police, obedience to the hierarchy is a rule,” said the policeman. “How do you expect a commander not to give in to more senior officers than he? In view of the seriousness of the facts and the death of a young man, and in order to guarantee an impartial investigation, it would have been preferable to entrust it to a higher ranking officer, a controller or an Inspector General and who is not from the region but who comes from Paris, for example. “
More seriously, the police did not interview the head of the CRS unit that arrived at Quai Wilson minutes after the massive use of tear gas grenades.
IGPN heard a commissioner who it presented as being “in charge of CRS”. But that’s not quite right. This commissioner, who is absolutely not CRS, did not lead the unit. He represented the civil authority that indicates, in particular, where the units must intervene, but does not decide on the operational strategy to be adopted. “It’s the commander and not the commissioner who runs his own unit,” says an investigator.
In the conclusions of the report, the IGPN thus transcribed the hearing of this commissioner: “called in reinforcements, noting upon his arrival at 4:45 am that, according to him, he observed projectiles being thrown” at the police, this commissioner himself being the “target of sporadic thrown firework projectiles, but CRS had not engaged its means”. Without any comment on this striking refusal to use force.
However, the end-of-operation report written by the CRS unit, which the IGPN has not been required to publish, is very explicit.
Mediapart publishes an excerpt from the analysis made by the commander of the CRS:
Subject: The commitment of my unit on the occasion of the Music Festival in Nantes
on Friday, June 21st 2019.
Technically, given the layout of the site and the absence of railings on the dock, I refused to use any tear gas to avoid panic movements and possible falls into the nearby river. It was 4:50. As a matter of fact, the public safety channel was already announcing the recovery of many individuals who fell into the river and were recovered by the nautical service.
When the CRS unit arrives, the response is almost complete, but there are still “sporadic” projectile throws. It is via a discussion with the young people that the CRS unit manages to calm the situation, as is stated in the report:
Accompanied by my transmitter, I made contact with individuals and was able to see their state of irritation and their heavy intoxication. After a few exchanges with the most recalcitrant people where I explained to them in particular that there would be no violence on our part, the tension reduced and became progressively frozen. At 5.20 am, I was relieving one of the two sections, but leaving one section able to cope with a potential upsurge in violence.
The IGPN did not wish to hear the commander who considered the use of tear gas to be dangerous.
As was explained to the Inspectorate by one of the civil security agents, the use of tear gas can cause people to fall into the river. At approximately 4:40 am, almost ten minutes after the first police fired tear gas canisters, he observed “a lot of commotion” on Quai Wilson when, at the same time, “it was announced that a person had disappeared or sunk, without specifying the place “.
The commissioner Grégoire Chassaing confirms it himself to IGPN investigators, who recount his words: “After a salvo of tear gas, the head of the apparatus [Grégoire Chassaing] was informed that two people had fallen into the Loire.”
Nevertheless, the IGPN does not consider that the use of tear gas can be inappropriate or even disproportionate.
The IGPN questions the very fact that this police action could cause young panicked people to fall into the Loire, certifying that “none of the people rescued by the rescuers had declared to have been pushed by the action of the police to jump into the water”.
This assertion is contradicted by several people who fell in the water that night, including Jeremy, 24, who clearly blames the tear gas for his fall of eight meters into the Loire, as he explained to Mediapart. “I did not see anything, I tried to swim, I was floating still. I clung to a rope on the side, I did not see others falling but I heard them.”
The IGPN mentions only one witness who, present on the evening of the incident, made a report via the platform of the Inspection “to complain about the tear gas throwing by the police force that led to falls and other ailments”.
Another police officer, who also agreed to comment to us on the findings, first of all pointed out that the use in twenty minutes (between 4:31 am and 4:52 am) of 33 teargas grenades, 10 dispersal grenades, and 12 shots of LBD is “a massive and unusual job”. They have ‘saturated’ the area. This obviously raises questions,” he added.
“When the IGPN says there was no charge, it plays on words. Indeed, a charge normally follows an entire protocol with summations. But it was not the case here. Nevertheless, there was a police operation with a massive use of weapons, of intermediate classes, certainly, but weapons.”
Various videos, relayed in particular by Libération, show in particular the massive use of tear gas grenades. In some images, young people ask the police to stop, alerting them to the risk of falling.
The police officer interviewed by Mediapart also notes a complete disorganisation of the chain of command, whether in the field or in the office.
Indeed, and without seeming to be embarrassed by it, the IGPN observes in its report that the commissioner Grégoire Chassaing, in charge of the intervention on the ground, lost control over his men, so chaotic the situation was: “The Divisional Commissioner was not in a position to actually direct his staff.”
In addition, just five minutes after the first shots and from the command room, director Thierry Palermo – Chassaing’s superior – asked him to stop the tear gas. But this order is not respected.
In a second time, the same Thierry Palermo admits “to being unable” to appreciate “the strategy and the way of intervening of the police officers who are engaged”, whereas his primary mission is to direct the police forces.
A member of a police union does not budge: “It is a shame that the police do not set the example, assuming its share of responsibility and recognising that this intervention was not to be done and that faced with youth opposition, it was just necessary to withdraw without using as many grenades. But now we are doing law enforcement at a music festival instead of securing the people who participate. “
This was decided in 2017. Given the risks, and despite the throwing of projectiles, the police had opted for a “tactical retreat”. But again, the IGPN did not refer to this report, which Mediapart published extracts of.
To date, no administrative action has been taken against the commissioners Grégoire Chassaing and Thierry Palermo.
Contacted by Mediapart, the National Police communication service forwarded the answers of the IGPN. The Inspection confirms that the report of the CRS unit is appended to the report, without having considered it useful to mention it in its summary.
The Inspectorate considers that the Commissioner’s hearing is sufficient, even if he does not direct the CRS unit and does not decide on operational strategies. Finally, the IGPN is once again distorting the reality by explaining that the CRS commander refuses the use of force because the operations are over. As the extract we publish shows, tear gas is not used by the CRS to “avoid panic movements and possible falls into the nearby river”.
To conclude, the IGPN provides, in a strange formula, “that other investigations can be conducted, but that as it stands does not clear the police while being unable to incriminate them”.
Mediapart, Pascale Pascariello