PARIS – France's highest appeals court on Wednesday reopened a trial of two police officers accused of failing to help two teenagers whose 2005 electrocution deaths sparked riots across the country.
The brother of one of the two victims praised the court for overturning a lower court that had ruled last year to drop the case against the officers for lack of concrete evidence.
The two boys — 15-year-old Bouna Traore and 17-year-old Zyed Benna — were electrocuted while hiding from police in a power substation in the Paris suburb of Clichy-sous-Bois on Oct. 27, 2005. A third teenager suffered serious burns.
Frustrated minority youths in suburbs around the country blamed police for the deaths and erupted in anger, setting cars ablaze and smashing store windows.
"It's a great day for us and for all those that shared our pain and suffering," said Traore's brother, Siyakha, speaking to the Sipa news agency outside the Paris court. He said he is "very relieved" and that the ruling constitutes "a huge step forward."
In 2005, local youths blamed the police for the deaths and exploded in anger, setting cars ablaze and smashing store windows. That tapped frustration nationwide among largely minority youths in poor housing projects, and fiery riots raged across the country for three weeks, leading France to declare a state of emergency. Tensions between French police and youths in poor neighborhoods still simmer and occasionally erupt into violence.
The question of the police officers' responsibility in the deaths has been a divisive one.
In 2010, investigating judges ruled that the officers should face trial on charges of "non-assistance to a person in danger." But the regional prosecutor's office argued there wasn't enough evidence to show the officers knew the boys were inside the power station.
The two defendants were a police intern at a command post listening to radio communications from the scene and an officer who allegedly saw the two teens enter the power substation.
France's Interior Ministry initially denied that the police had chased the youths before they hid in the power station. An internal police review, however, confirmed the officers had been chasing the teens before they were killed and said officers should immediately have notified French energy company EDF that the youths were hiding in the power station.
Under French law, everyone — not just police — must try to help a person in danger as long as they or others aren't threatened by bringing such aid.
The case will now go to the appeals court in the French city of Rennes.