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Where Is Steve?: A Police Report Raises the Responsibility of the Prefecture and the Town Hall

A report of police operations of June 22nd 2017 talks about the dangers incurred by young people celebrating in Nantes, the music festival along the banks of the Loire, Quai Wilson. Where two years later Steve Maia Caniço disappeared, the police in 2017 refused to use force to evacuate the premises, two young people having already fell in the Loire. In view of the dangers involved, a “tactical retreat” without the use of force was then decided.

On June 21st 2019, in Nantes, Quai Wilson, at around 4:30 am, the police used tear gas and LBD-40 against young people in order to make them turn off the music. During this night, 14 people fell into the Loire, and ever since this police intervention, Steve Maia Caniço, 24, is missing.

The prefecture was nevertheless perfectly informed about the risks. On the occasion of the music festival in 2017, in a similar configuration, Quai Wilson, the police had decided on a “tactical withdrawal”, standing at a distance from the young, without using force, two people having already fallen into the Loire. This is shown in a police report dated June 22nd 2017 and forwarded to the prefecture, which Mediapart has read.

Participants on Quai Wilson, seen from the sky, July 20th.

Two days after the death of Steve Maia Caniço, the prefect of Loire-Atlantique Claude d’Harcourt, in charge with the mayor of the organisation of the festivities, however, reminded France Bleu that the organisers had been warned that the music should stop. “The music was rekindled,” which justifies, according to the prefect, the intervention of the police before adding: “In front of people who had drunk a lot and who had probably taken drugs, it is difficult to intervene rationally.”

After the disappearance of a 24-year-old young man, by these remarks, the representative of the state thus legitimised a police operation at an unsecured place and moreover with the use of disproportionate force vis-a-vis fragile people.

Could this be a way to hide their own responsibility? Because the prefecture, like the town hall, was perfectly informed about the risks incurred by these young people in the event of a police intervention. They knew that in this unsecured place the risk of falling in the Loire existed. For at least two years, this danger was known and was reported by police in a report dated June 22nd 2017 and forwarded to the prefecture and the Central Directorate of Public Security.

This document that Mediapart was able to consult is the report of the police operations during the music festival of June 21st 2017. There it is specified not only “subject: service order – festive demonstration on a public road – music festival 2017”, “organisers: city of Nantes [and] prefecture”, but also the number of police force and their assignment.

It can be read that between 9 pm, when the security apparatus is put in place, and up to 3 pm, several arrests are made in the city center. Then, the description of the operations moves near the banks of the Loire.

At 03:38, the police said that the firefighters recovered “two people who fell into the Loire” whose “condition [is] not life-threatening.” At 4:25, the police intervene “to stop the Quai Wilson music.”, the very place where two years later they will act violently, claiming that projectiles were thrown.

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There, in 2017, the police report that “individuals refuse to obey”, that “a police officer has a skull injury” and that the police are the target of “thrown projectiles”. Despite these clashes, the police do not intervene and decide, at 4.50 am, to do a “tactical withdrawal”. Given the risks that this area represents along the unsecured banks, the police remain at a distance. And at 5 o’clock, “the crowd slowly disperses”.

Claude D’Harcourt, prefect of the Loire-Atlantique.

Contacted by Mediapart, several policemen who worked in Nantes knew about the existence of this 2017 report. One of them specifies that “each party is not strictly comparable. But it is obvious that the apparatus is, and above all the operation reports allow to specify dangers or risks”.

The same policeman notes that “the problems on Quai Wilson were already known since 2017. And despite that, we again ordered an intervention at a place that had still not been secured. Young people could fall in the water, but we went and we played with fire. This drama could have been avoided. And the responsibilities of the police, prefecture and town hall must be assumed”.

Another officer who participated in the operations at the music festival said that in previous years, it was “not about the restoration of order, but about securing it.”

“Our aim is to protect young people, not put them at risk,” he explains. “Five years ago, when I was in the apparatus, since we knew that the banks were unprotected and that they were drunk, we were waiting for them to wear themselves out. And around 6-7 o’clock in the morning, they stopped. They did not bother anyone since there were no houses around. This year, we should not have intervened or we had to find another place for them.”

He questions the evolution of police practices. “This report also shows changes in the use of force. It is the same commissioner who, in 2017, decided to stay at a distance and who, two years later, massively used tear gas. He has lost the sense of appreciation, of nuance, but it must also be put into a more general context of tougher policing. The hierarchy is obviously not a stranger to this and the pressure can be strong.”

The prefect of Loire-Atlantique did not wish to answer our questions, taking refuge, surprisingly, behind the investigation of the General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN). But he can not ignore that the prefecture does not depend on the IGPN, but the Inspectorate General of Administration (IGA), the only competent body to control its actions, and which has not been involved in the case to date.

After Steve’s disappearance on June 24th, the Interior Minister requested an administrative inquiry from the IGPN, the findings of which will be made public the week of July 29th.

It is difficult to not remember the disproportion in the use of force. Especially since a report from June 22nd 2019 re-transcribed what was ascertained – a “support” unit of CRS arrived at 4:45, after the intervention of the police. “Given the configuration of the site and the lack of guardrails on the wharf,” the CRS said they refused “the use of any means of tear gas in order to prevent panic and possible falls into the nearby river. It was 4:50. Moreover, the public security channel already announced the recovery of many individuals fallen into the river and recovered by the nautical service.”

They also said that they had calmed some young people who had been frightened by previous clashes by telling them that there would be no “violence” from the side of CRS. In doing so, “the tension subsided and gradually froze”.

Christophe Castaner did not refer the matter to the General Inspectorate of the Administration so that the prefecture and its failings in security are checked. However, as a representative of the State, the prefect is “in charge of public order and the security of the population”, as is specified in the decree of April 29th 2004.

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Traveling in Essonne on July 25th, the minister said: “It is normal that we are both exemplary and transparent on the subject”. A transparency that stops at the doors of the prefecture.

Contacted by Mediapart, the cabinet of the Minister of the Interior refused to answer our questions about the absence of referral to the GIA despite the overt responsibility of the prefect.

The small hangar of Quai Wilson in Nantes was covered with inscriptions for Steve during the month of July. © Elisa Perrigueur

On the side of the mayor of Nantes Johanna Rolland, the argument is laborious. The town hall, via its communication service, first wants to clarify that the Quai Wilson site depends on the state. In a second step, it specifies that “taking into account the experiences of the previous years, we have secured the places”. Without giving more details about the “experiences of previous years”, the town hall explains having made available “two agents to make a link with the rescue service, as well as a rescue boat in the Loire”.

The lightness of the apparatus leads us to point out that no railings had been put in place. There is no comment from the town hall, which, in a final e-mail, shirks responsibility: “The organisation of an event of the magnitude of the music festival systematically gives rise to coordination meetings between the various departments concerned under the aegis of the prefecture”. Concerning the course and purpose of these meetings, the town hall remains, again, sibylline.

On July 3rd, more than a week after the death of Steve Maia Caniço, the prefect received the heads of associations Freeform and Media’son, specializing in the accompaniment and organisation of electronic music events.

Samuel Raymond, coordinator of Freeform, came out aghast. “The prefecture considers that the evening was illegal because it had not been declared. But the collectives have participated in the music festival for 20 years. It’s absurd, if not indecent, to make such comments today,” he said.

Often invited to the inter-ministerial working groups on this subject, Samuel Raymond recalls that “the prefecture should have either made sure that the premises were secure or forbid the assembly or move it to another place if it considered that it was not part of the music festival”.

“The authorities, be it the prefecture or the town hall, are sending the ball back and forwards to each other, but they each have a share of responsibility in the lack of security of the apparatus and in the order for intervention that should not have been given,” he concludes.

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Following the meeting in the prefecture, Freeform issued the following communiqué: “We wanted to meet the prefect to understand what happened. (…) We wanted to meet him, because we believe that it is important for the public authorities to have a word of truth. (…) The answers we got this morning are not enough. (…) we will turn to the Minister of the Interior Mr Castaner but also the ministers of Youth and of Culture to know what follow-up they intend to give to this case and what measures they propose so that such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.”

Victor Lacroix, president of the Media’son association, does not retreat. “The prefecture had no words of compassion. And senselessly, told us that they weren’t aware of the Quai Wilson gathering. However, this has been going on for years and this report from 2017 proves that the prefecture is well informed. Its responsibility must be committed and the National Coordination of Sound [an association that brings together groups of free party organisers], is preparing to ask that the General Inspectorate of Administration conducts an investigation into the prefecture. “

Several participants told us that in all the previous years the evenings had been held, according to the same organisation, in the same place, “with the intervention of the police coming to stop the music, but without noticeable clashes and absolutely nothing comparable with what happened this year.”

For Cécile de Oliveira, the lawyer of the family of Steve Maia Caniço, this report “is obviously important because it gives the vision of another way of acting in the framework not of maintaining order, but of security, because that’s what this is about.”

Several investigations are in progress, among which there is an open investigation into the causes of the disappearance. Following the collective complaint of 89 participants for “endangering the lives of others and intentional acts of violence by persons in charge of public authority”, a preliminary inquiry was opened and entrusted to the IGPN.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer Marianne Rostan believes that this report “again demonstrates that no police intervention should have been ordered. Nothing justifies the use of such weapons. The words of the prefect are difficult to understand. And those of President Emmanuel Macron are staggering. It took three weeks for him to express himself without having a single word for the family of Steve Maia Caniço.”


Mediapart, Pascale Pascariello

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