French 'yellow vest' boxer gets one-year sentence for punching police

Christophe Dettinger is seen in a court sketch during the opening hearing of the trial over the assault of a police officer during 'yellow vest' protest at the Paris courthouse on Feb 13, 2019.
Christophe Dettinger is seen in a court sketch during the opening hearing of the trial over the assault of a police officer during 'yellow vest' protest at the Paris courthouse on Feb 13, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - A former boxer who became a hero to some of France's "yellow vest" protesters after beating up police officers during a demonstration was convicted on Wednesday (Feb 13) and given a one-year prison term.

Ignoring prosecution calls for a significantly heavier sentence, the judge said that Christophe Dettinger, a former national light-heavyweight champion, would have easy open prison terms which would allow him to work during the day.

Dettinger, 37, has been held in custody since turning himself in after the attack last month. He appeared before a packed courtroom looking tired, with a thin moustache and his hair cut short.

He was caught on camera on Jan 5 throwing a flurry of punches at an officer during clashes on a footbridge over the river Seine in Paris.

Footage of the incident, which has been played repeatedly on TV and social media, was shown again in court on Wednesday with Dettinger, who is 1.9 metres tall (6 foot 3 inches) seen punching one policeman then kicking another on the ground.

At his first court appearance, the married father-of-three, who had no previous convictions, apologised for his actions.

"I wanted to stop an injustice but I ended up creating another," Dettinger told the court, expressing remorse for his "mistake" which he said was sparked by his anger at the "violence" used against demonstrators.

 
 

"I see police hitting the yellow vests protesters with truncheons - I don't understand. I see a woman on the ground, someone kicks her and raises a truncheon and that's when I threw myself at the policeman and hit him," he explained calmly.

Despite his apology, the prosecutor called for a three-year sentence, with one suspended.

However, Dettinger was told that another judge would, in five days, determine the exact terms of his prison time.

"You will sleep in prison, but you will be able to continue working," the judge told him Wednesday.

On top of his one-year term Dettinger also received an 18-month suspended sentence, is banned from visiting Paris for six months and must pay his two victims sums of 2,000 euros (S$3,000) and 3,000 euros.

The scene on Jan 5 caused widespread outrage, with the government describing it as a prime example of the violence that has characterised the yellow vest protests since they began in November.

One of the officers was treated in hospital for his injuries. Both have sued Dettinger.

However some French people have hailed him as a hero for taking on the police.

AN ANGRY 'ORDINARY CITIZEN'

The yellow vest movement - named after the high-visibility safety vests worn by the activists - started over fuel tax hikes and quickly grew into a broader rebellion against the economic policies and leadership style of President Emmanuel Macron.

The number of people taking part in weekly protests has fallen significantly since the start of the year, but the heat has not gone out of the movement, with the demonstrations regularly ending in rioting.

Six people were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of using a forklift truck to smash open the large wooden door to the compound housing the office of government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

That incident occurred on the same day as Dettinger's attack on the police.

On Friday Eric Drouet, a leading figure of the yellow vest movement, will be tried on charges of illegally organising a demonstration in Paris.

If convicted the 33-year-old truck driver faces up to six months behind bars.

Since the start of the protests, 1,796 people have been convicted, mainly for destruction of public property and attacking the police.

Another 1,422 are still awaiting trial, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament on Tuesday.

In a video posted on YouTube a day after his outburst, Dettinger described himself as an "ordinary citizen" acting out of anger with what he called the repressive tactics of the police.

Talking in a calm voice in court he said: "I was looking for my wife, I witnessed the truncheon blows on the 'yellow vests'. Bam, bam, bam. I couldn't understand it. I saw a woman on the ground... it was then that I threw myself at a policeman and hit him".

His case elicited widespread sympathy among the yellow vests and their supporters, with an online fundraising drive bringing in more than 117,000 euros ($134,000) to cover his legal costs before being shut down.

But the police have also won sympathy, with a fund for injured officers garnering over a million euros in donations.

Around 10,000 people took part in a rally in Paris last month to condemn "yellow vest" violence.