France Ordered to Pay Fine in Case Involving 3 Teens Subjected to Identity Checks

A Paris appeals court ruled on Tuesday that racial discrimination was the motivation behind police identity checks of three high school students of color in 2017 and ordered the state of France to pay 1,500 euros (more than $1,800) in reparations to the young men.

At the time, the three were final year students at a high school in the Paris suburb Epinay-sur-Seine. They were stopped and searched by police after getting off a train at the Gare du Nord station while returning from a school trip to Brussels.

The stops and searches were conducted in front of their teacher and classmates each time at the station. The court of appeals convicted the state of a "grave fault" for the police actions.

The decision by the appeals court overturned a decision made by a lower court, which had ruled discrimination was not the motivation behind the searches, as all 18 students on the trip were students of color, but only three of them were searched.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

French court
A magistrate is seen near case files in the hearing room of the trial of a French businessman at the Paris courthouse on May 10, 2021. A Paris court of appeals overturned the ruling by a lower court on Tuesday, fining the French state 1,500 in reparations. Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Lawyer Slim Ben Achour noted that of the 18 students, 15 were girls, not usually asked to undergo identity checks and searches, and deplored that video and audio recordings of the incidents hadn't been taken into account, like the testimony of the teacher and an accompanying adult.

The appeals court considered that "physical characteristics" were "the real cause behind the controls," Ben Achour said in a telephone interview. He called it a "beautiful decision" that pleased the young men, Mamadou Camara, Ilyas Haddaji et Zakaria Hadji Mmadi, and made the teacher, Elise Boscherel, cry when he informed them of the written ruling. The court was "very severe with the absence of reaction of state when informed, notably by social networks, of the discriminatory checks," Ben Achour said.

Tuesday's decision was also an "important legal victory" that paves the way for the next step in a class-action suit filed in January by six nongovernmental organizations over alleged systemic racism within the French police, the lawyer said.

In a lawsuit brought by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Open Society Justice Initiative and three local organizations contend police use racial profiling in deciding who to check, and target Black people and people of Arab descent. Under rules governing class action cases in France, the government was given four months to make satisfying proposals or risk court.

Ben Achour, representing the Open Society Justice Initiative in the lawsuit, said there has been no response and NGOs are preparing to take the state to court.

Despite constant allegations of racial profiling by police in France, few cases go to court, often because of fear of repercussions by those targeted, according to activists and lawyers.

Gare du Nord
Passengers are pictured on February 27, at the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, France. All three students were stopped and searched at the Gare du Nord station in 2017. Getty Images/Siegfried Modola