French push against domestic abuse may overlook some police

PARIS (AP) — Chahinez Daoud was 31 years old in May when her former husband shot and burned her alive in the town of Merignac, near Bordeaux. Two months earlier, she had filed a complaint for domestic violence, but it was mishandled and no action was taken. She was among scores of women killed annually by a partner in France — 102 last year.

The police officer who took her complaint had himself been allegedly convicted of habitually beating his wife, according to a newspaper investigative report. This has spurred calls for action over the long-taboo subject of domestic violence by some French officers.

Yet despite a new official push to tackle domestic abuse, such violence by law enforcement remains unaddressed. Victims and lawyers are pushing for solutions such as training and independent internal police investigations.

“There were many human failings leading to my client not being protected,” Solène Roquain-Bardet, Daoud’s lawyer, told The Associated Press. “This latest news is astounding.”

Daoud’s ex-husband had been in prison for domestic violence against her until December 2020. After his release, he attacked her again, and in March this year, she filed another complaint at the Merignac police station. But the police officer’s filing was illegible and never got properly forwarded to court authorities, according to a state review of how the case was handled.

State inspectors wrote that there are “serious doubts regarding the care with which the danger evaluation documents were completed.”

One key fact missing from the state inspection document: The officer who took her complaint had himself allegedly been found guilty in February 2021 of “habitual violence” against his ex-wife, the Canard Enchaîné, a reliable, well-sourced weekly, reported last month.

He received a suspended 8-month prison sentence and was in disciplinary proceedings when he took Daoud’s complaint. Only after her killing was he moved out of a public-facing job, according to Canard Enchaîné.

For Daoud’s lawyer, “there’s a leniency by the hierarchy which tells itself that, in the end, taking complaints is not that big a deal.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin this month made fighting domestic abuse a top priority.

Regarding the officer who took Daoud’s complaint, he told the daily Le Parisien that “his superiors should not have allowed him to be in contact with the public.”

In another layer of dysfunction, the officer’s conviction was not disclosed to state inspectors reviewing the events leading to Daoud’s death. Darmanin said the IGPN police oversight agency was investigating whether there was an intentional attempt to hide that. If so, he said, “sanctions will be taken.”

Police stations in the region where Daoud was killed declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation, or to say whether other complaints the officer took were under review. TheFrench Interior Ministry and the Ministry for Equality Between Women and Men did not respond to requests by The Associated Press for comment.

There are no known studies in France on the issue of intimate partner violence involving police, though the problem within law enforcement in France and elsewhere is not new. A 1991 U.S. study by Arizona State University professor Leanor Boulin Johnson found that 40% of a sample of 900,000 officers admitted to having committed domestic violence within the previous six months.

British TV network Channel 4 released in May its own investigation on domestic violence by British police, saying more than 125 women reported their officer partners in the last two years. It cited a Freedom of Information request by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that found that from 2015 to 2018 there were almost 700 reports of domestic violence involving police officers and staff in Britain.

In France, Sophie Boutboul and Alizé Bernard, a journalist and former victim of domestic abuse by a police officer, co-wrote a 2019 book on the subject.

Bernard’s ex-partner received a suspended 6-month prison sentence for inflicting violence over two years, but the judge decided to keep the information off his disciplinary records. “I took it as preferential treatment,” Bernard told the AP.

The officer continued to train police for arrests and self-defense and kept his service revolver. And he worked near Bernard’s home. When driving, she would plan detours to avoid his patrol area.

“I was scared, scared of stumbling into him patrolling, scared of being arrested, scared of what could happen,” she said. “When I crossed (his patrol area) I was always with someone with a phone ready to record. You can’t live like that.”

Journalist Boutboul found a pattern in women victims of police domestic violence.

“The fear will often be exacerbated by specific threats,” Boutboul said, things like “I’m the law,” “The complaint will come to my desk,” “I know the prosecutor.”

The lack of statistics pushed feminist organizations to petition the government to organize a national count of violence by police. More than 20,000 people have signed on in the past two weeks.

The online magazine Bastamag, which specializes in social and ecology issues and keeps a record of police-related deaths, said that since 1990 about 40 people, mostly women and children, were fatally shot by a partner or parent in the police.

Most killings happened off duty, with the officer using his service weapon. In 12 cases, the officers also killed themselves, according to Bastamag.

In 2017, France’s national hotline for domestic violence counted 93 calls from partners of police officers out of 1,328 calls, the latest figures available.

The small police union SUD Intérieur is a rare voice within French law enforcement to speak about the issue. It has called for an independent authority to investigate police actions, replacing the internal General Inspectorate of the National Police (IGPN) that now oversees alleged misconduct.

“We can’t ask that the police control the police,” a union official said, reiterating what critics have long contended: That police officers are often sympathetic to members of their ranks, a tendency that can influence investigations. He asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.

Boutboul questions why officers found guilty of a crime can remain on the job. “Why aren’t there automatic procedures when there’s a complaint for violence against police?” Boutboul asked.

The officer who took Chahinez Daoud’s complaint in March was only removed from that position after her death.

“He shouldn’t be taking complaints. He’s in front of women victims of violence like he himself perpetrated,” Boutboul said. “It’s a vicious circle.”