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Steve’s Death: The Prime Minister Clears the Police

Last updated on 31st July 2019

“There can be no link between the intervention of police forces and the disappearance of Steve Maia Caniço,” said Edouard Philippe, relying on the report of the IGPN. He announced an investigation by the General Inspectorate of Administration. The opposition rebels.

Thirty-eight days. This is the time it took the government to directly address the relatives of Steve Maia Caniço, missing since June 22nd, following a police charge on the Île de Nantes and found dead on July 29th in the Loire.

“I would like to express my sincerest condolences to the parents of this young man,” said Philippe at a press conference at Hôtel Matignon, announcing his wish “to meet them shortly with the Minister of the Interior inside to show them our support and our desire for total transparency”.

At his side, the first French cop Christophe Castaner remained silent.

In the aftermath, the Prime Minister unveiled a preview of the conclusions of the report of the Inspectorate General of the National police (IGPN) – yet dated… July 16th – on the catastrophic operation of maintaining order at the end of the evening of the Music Festival at Quai Wilson.

According to this document (the summary of which is can be consulted in full below – the entire report has not been made public), no doubt is allowed, said Édouard Philippe: “A link between the intervention of the police force and the disappearance of Steve Maia Caniço cannot be established.”

Rapport-IGPN

The head of the government thus whitewashes the police to better blame the mayor, the prefecture, and associations organising the tragic free party, saying that the report “also highlighted questions about the preparation of this event”.

Accusations that made one react furiously. The mayor of Nantes Johanna Rolland demanded, in a press release, that “all the light” be shed on “the circumstances of the disappearance of Steve” but also “on the motivations and modalities of the police’s intervention”.

“I note that after five weeks of investigation, the IGPN is still not able to say what happened on the night of June 21st to 22nd, on Quai Wilson, Nantes. This is troubling and disturbing to say the least,” said Johanna Rolland to Ouest-France, after the publication of the police report.

“It has been more than 20 years that partygoers gather there each year. The state was therefore aware of the enormous risks engendered by such an intervention, yet it did not hesitate. The message is clear, the repression is in full swing,” denounced the National Coordination of Sound Systems in a statement.

Concerning the organiser of the Techno Parade, he says he is “aghast”.

“More than five weeks after the fact, the course of that evening, the sequence of events, remain confused,” insisted the Prime Minister. “This is why I decided to go to the General Inspectorate of Administration (GIA) to go further and understand the conditions of the organisation of the event by the public authorities […] as well as by the private organisers.”

The conclusions of this new administrative inquiry, which the government did not want to launch concomitantly with that of the IGPN, “are expected within a month” and “will be made public,” said Philippe.

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These elements will also be communicated to the prosecutor of Nantes, who opened on Tuesday a judicial investigation against X for “manslaughter”.

Marianne Rostan, the lawyer who carries the dossier of the collective complaint of 89 participants of this techno party, wonders “what this survey really served” from the IGPN: “I want to remind you that for 20 years it has been organised here, and that we had never had such incidents with several people who fall in the Loire and today, a death recorded”, she explained to France Info.

The report for law enforcement operations during the 2017 Music Festival, which Mediapart revealed on Sunday, July 28th, is for this reason eloquent: it confirms that under equivalent circumstances, the police had preferred that year to carry out a “tactical retreat” by pointing out the risks of an intervention on this site.

“The problem,” insisted Rostan, “is not the organisation of the event. It is the intervention of the police. And on that, there is no information and there are attempts to send the ball back to the organisational side beforehand.”

In its report, the IGPN points out that “this use of force [tear gas canisters, firing LBD, use of an electric impulse pistol – ed], in response to assault [“insults” and “throwing projectiles” – ed], … was justified and did not appear disproportionate” and that “there was no evidence that the police had made any offensive lunges or manoeuvres [ … which would have had the consequence of pushing the participants of the party towards the Loire”.

These conclusions are defeated by numerous testimonies and images, gathered in particular by Libération, which show that it was indeed a prepared charge intended to disperse the festive gathering.

In addition, the IGPN certifies that “none of the persons rescued by the rescuers stated that they had been forced by the action of the police to jump into the water”. Here also, this assertion is contradicted by many of the 14 people who fell into the water that night, including Jérémy, aged 24, who clearly blames the tear gas for his eight-meter plunge into the Loire.

“My eyes were burning, I felt my foot go into the void,” he testified to Mediapart. “I could not see anything, I tried to swim, I was floating still. I clung to a rope on the side, I did not see the others falling but I heard them.”

These conclusions have not finished fuelling the controversy, even if LREM parliamentarians have all united behind the government’s position.

At the beginning of July, Mounir Belhamiti, a municipal councillor and substitute for the deputy François de Rugy (before his resignation from the government), broke this unity by calling the state’s attitude “faulty”.

“When the first state response, through its representative, and even before the investigation of the IGPN, is to declare, three days after the incident, that the police intervention was deployed ‘in a proportionate manner‘, I say it bluntly: the state is at fault. Because no one can consider as proportionate an intervention that leads a dozen young people to throw themselves into the Loire,” he denounced in a post published on his Facebook page.

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This time, no member of the majority party has gone beyond the official line. Elected officials, like the boss of the party Stanislas Guerini, sent obligatory messages of “condolences” to the relatives of Steve Maia Caniço by expressing their desire to establish the “truth” about the circumstances of his death.

Some parliamentarians have even contented themselves with reproducing almost word for word their messages posted after the disappearance of the young man a month earlier. This is particularly the case for the deputy of the Loire-Atlantique Valérie Oppelt.

On Tuesday, she posted this message on Twitter: “I send my sincere thoughts to the family of Steve Maia Caniço and his family. Respect the necessary time for mourning and meditation in these painful moments. Different investigations and justice will determine the responsibilities of everyone.”

A tweet with the same content as the one she already posted on June 24: “My thoughts are with the family and loved ones of the missing young man. The circumstances of the tragedy that occurred in Nantes during the music festival must be established. Two investigations are in progress. We must find solutions so that such a tragedy does not happen again.” Contacted by Mediapart, Valérie Oppelt did not respond.

“Several surveys are underway or will be conducted in a complementary way, it is important to know [what happened],” said to Mediapart her colleague Sophie Errante, who is also a deputy of the Loire-Atlantique. The parliamentarian, candidate for mayor of Nantes in 2020, considers that it is “essential to do everything so that it does not happen again”.

“We must do everything to make the place safe. As for the police charge, I am waiting for the results of the investigations, the responsibilities will have to be clarified and assumed by all,” she adds. Rendez-vous for the next episode, after the verdict of the IGA in a month …

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The opposition is not satisfied with this agenda, from one inspection to another. While, on social networks, the hashtag #JusticePourSteve (#JusticeForSteve) quickly replaced #OuEstSteve (#WhereIsSteve), La France Insoumise (LFI) has expressed its willingness to include the creation of a commission of inquiry in the parliamentary agenda.

“Why not only were there charges while young people were explaining to the police that the Loire was behind them? Why did the prefect let it happen? Why at the level of the chain of command, one arrives at an incredible situation because of 30 minutes of additional music, one arrives like that to the death of a young person?” asked the LFI deputy Éric Coquerel on BFM TV.

The elected representative reminded everyone of his side’s distrust of the IGPN (“it has long been thought that the police are not the ones to investigate the police”), while his colleague Alexis Corbière said he was “dubious” about the conclusions presented by Édouard Philippe.

“No connection between Steve’s death and the intervention of law enforcement, said the Prime Minister … While advocating “transparency”. By denying the obvious, we cover ourselves with shame,” also denounced the communist Ian Brossat.

“When will there be reflection on the use of violence by the police and what does a disproportionate police charge mean?” asked Attac, whose activist Geneviève Legay was seriously injured in Nice during a Yellow Vests demonstration.

The national secretary of Europe Ecology-The Greens David Cormand has meanwhile expressed his “pain”, but also his “anger” and “astonishment” after the discovery of a body in the Loire.

The Socialist Party reacted in disordered ranks. The party’s first secretary Olivier Faure merely stated that “the truth about the circumstances of his death” is the “only way to do justice to Steve and prevent new tragedies”. When the first federal of the Republicans of Hérault Hussein Bourgi, a member of the National Office, plainly and simply called for the resignation of Christophe Castaner.

On Tuesday, in the city centre of Nantes, a citizen collective poured blood-coloured food colouring into the fountain of Place Royale, on which a black banner bearing the name of Steve was hung. 150 people then found themselves near where his body was found.


Mediapart, Donatien Huet and Antton Rouget

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