French delivery man's death sparks debate over controversial police restraint technique

Before the police arrested him, Cédric Chouviat was filming them (photo at left). Chouviat was restrained in a prone position, which likely led to his death.
Before the police arrested him, Cédric Chouviat was filming them (photo at left). Chouviat was restrained in a prone position, which likely led to his death.

Cédric Chouviat, a 42-year-old French delivery man, died on January 5 from a heart attack that he suffered when he was arrested by police in Paris two days earlier. Mobile phone videos released by his family’s lawyer during a press conference on January 7 show the police restraining him as he lies prone – a notoriously dangerous position.

An initial video shows part of the altercation that took place between Chouviat and several police officers. The footage shows Chouviat filming the interaction. A police source cited by French daily newspaper Le Parisien described Chouviat as “disrespectful” and “aggressive”. He said that Chouviat was apprehended for using his mobile phone while on his scooter. He was then arrested for contempt of a police officer.

The first tweet describes the first video shared by Chouviat’s lawyers, @AA_Avocats, which shows Chouviat being interviewed some time ago. The video shows how he was polite and cooperative during traffic stops, which he was accustomed to as a delivery man.

The second tweet refers to a second video shared by Chouviat’s lawyers that shows the traffic stop last Friday that led to his death. You can see Chouviat filming the cops. The Twitter user insists that there is no law against filming police officers.

The person who filmed these videos spoke to French media outlet Mediapart. He said that one of the police officers “went behind [Chouviat] and locked his arm around [Chouviat’s] neck. Chouvait fell to the ground". Two other mobile phone videos filmed by witnesses show officers restraining Chouviat while he lay on his stomach. He was then handcuffed.

The first tweet in the image above, by the French human rights NGO Ligue de droits de l'homme ('Human Rights League'), reads: "Restraining someone while in prone position is a common technique though it has led to many deaths. This technique is banned in many countries because it is so dangerous. A proposal to ban this technique was put before legislators in early 2019 and rejected."

The second tweet in the image above says: "After being restrained, Cédric died from asphyxia (lack of oxygen), which led to cardiac arrest and brain death."

Police noticed when Chouviat’s face started turning blue – he had suffered a heart attack from lack of oxygen. He was brought to the resuscitation unit at Georges-Pompidou Hospital, where he died two days later.

A controversial restraint technique

There was already a debate in France about restraining people in a prone position after Adama Traoré died on July 19, 2016 in Beaumont-sur-Oise. Traoré died of asphyxiation after being trapped under the weight of three officers.

NGOs like the Christian Association for the Abolition of Torture (Acat) frequently call for this technique to be banned. Both Belgian and Swiss police have already outlawed it.

During a press conference, the victim's father Christian Chouviat said that his son had been “assassinated”. On January 7, the Paris Public Prosecutor opened a judicial inquiry for involuntary manslaughter. Initial autopsy results revealed that Chouviat had suffered asphyxia and a “fractured larynx”. The IPGN, the body that acts as the police of the police, opened an investigation into cause of death as well.

Article by Pierre Hamdi (@PierreHamdi).