A report into the death of an 80-year-old woman hit by a teargas grenade during a gilets jaunes demonstration in 2018 has suggested the police officer fired directly at her apartment.
Zineb Redouane was closing the shutters of her fourth floor flat in central Marseille when she was struck by the canister. Ballistic experts say it would have been travelling at more than 97 km/h when it smashed into her chest and face, causing devastating injuries.
Redouane died in hospital two years ago on Wednesday.
A subsequent French report cleared the police of any wrongdoing, concluding the incident had been an accident.
However, an investigation by the NGO Disclose, using reconstructions carried out by Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London, contradicts the official report and suggests the officer who fired the canister had targeted residential homes.
The victim’s daughter has now lodged a legal complaint against Christophe Castaner, the interior minister at the time of her mother’s death.
In December 2018, gilets jaunes protesters demonstrating in Marseille city centre faced clouds of teargas used by the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) riot police.
Algerian-born Redouane was at the bedroom window of her apartment at 7pm talking to her daughter Milfet on the telephone, when she was hit by an MP7-type teargas canister fired from a Cougar launcher, whose instructions for use specify: “Direct fire is strictly banned so people are not hit.”
The canister, with a range of 100 metres and designed to clear an area of 1,000 sq metres, exploded inside the small apartment, releasing a huge quantity of gas.
Redouane was taken to hospital but died on the operating table. A postmortem examination reported she had “fractures of the entire right hemifacial bone”. On the basis of photos of the victim and a provisional autopsy report, the experts concluded that the teargas grenade struck the victim’s chest first, before hitting her chin.
The official investigation revealed that five CRS officers had been issued with Cougar launchers and MP7 teargas grenades on the day of the demonstration. The CRS commander in charge of the police forces on the day refused to name the officers and none has admitted firing at Redouane’s apartment building.
French ballistic experts reported the teargas canister, fired from a distance of 37 metres, was travelling at around 97.2 km/h when it struck Redouane and concluded the officer who shot it had respected the rules.
Their 73-page report, published in May, concluded “the weapon was used according to the instructions and procedures for use currently employed by the national police”. It added: “There is no argument to suggest that Madame Redouane could have been seen by the police officer at the time he fired”, and concluded the grenade had “hit the victim in a completely accidental manner during its upward projection”.
Forensic Architecture examined CCTV, videos of the demonstration posted on social media as well as the official French report to create a 3D reconstruction of the incident.
It concluded from the position of the police officer who fired the teargas, the angle of fire and the trajectory that “there was a strong possibility the grenade would enter an apartment and let off a large quantity of gas”. It said it was working on a margin of error of 2 metres, but that there were only apartments in the direction the officer had fired.
“There was a strong possibility the grenade would enter an apartment and let off a large quantity of gas,” the Forensic Architecture report concluded, adding: “It was clear there was a danger at the time of the firing. The response of the shooter and their supervisor is clearly in question.”
Yassine Bouzrou, lawyer for the Redouane family told the Guardian he believed the police officer had deliberately targeted the 80-year-old. “She was at the window talking to her daughter on the phone via the loudspeaker while the police were confronting Gilets Jaunes down below and being violent. I believe the officer fired the tear gas at her directly because he thought she was filming them,” Bouzrou said.
He expressed concerns over the ongoing judicial investigation into the incident.
“The police commander on the day has refused to allow the tear gas launcher to be examined and has since been promoted. We know the names of the five police officers who had tear gas launchers but they have never been questioned by an investigating judge.”
Bouzrou said the family had decided to take legal action against Castaner because he had publicly insisted it was an accident.
“This is a political issue. It’s important for the president of the Republic and the government to say nobody died because of police actions during the Gilets Jaunes protests in France. This is wrong.
“Mr Castaner has blamed the hospital for her death. He said it was the shock of the surgery. Suddenly Mrs Redouane died not because of what the police did, but because of a medical error. This is utter nonsense.”
The interior ministry told Le Monde that Castaner had simply relayed information received from the Marseille public prosecutor.
A police spokesperson said the official report that concluded the fatal incident was accidental had been carried out by “scientific, medical, ballistic and technical experts” who had examined the “angle of fire, the position of the firer, the distance and impact of the teargas grenade. The drawing up of the report was overseen by an investigating magistrate.”
“But of course it is impossible for it [the report] to say if it was deliberate or not,” he added.