Mahamadou Fofana – the cousin of Adama Traoré, a black French man who died in police custody in 2016 – purportedly drowned last week while fleeing from police. An internal investigation has been opened into the case, after his family said it would file a lawsuit for voluntary manslaughter.
A court in Versailles announced the investigation on Friday, which will seek to determine the official cause of the 35-year-old’s death.
It all began on the night of September 13, when police received a call from a local resident reporting a motorcycle theft in the western Paris suburb of Marly-le-Roi. Officers from France’s anti-crime brigade (Brigade anti-criminalité or BAC) were sent to the scene, where they said they intercepted five men trying to lift a motorcycle into a van.
At around 11pm, the police gave chase, stopping the suspects’ vehicle. The police claimed that the driver cut the engine, before continuing to flee on foot. According to their version of events, the suspect then dove into the Seine River, yet then appeared to try to swim back to shore. The police said he drowned a few metres from land, despite their best efforts to save him.
Fofana’s family has disputed their statement, raising questions about the murky circumstances surrounding the man’s death. Authorities have since issued a call for witnesses, due to a lack of video surveillance in the area where Fofana died.
At the heart of the Fofana family’s complaints are the preliminary results of an autopsy performed on his body. On September 16, Versailles prosecutor Maryvonne Caillibotte said that “all signs pointed to drowning” as the cause of Fofana’s death, citing the report.
Yet the family’s lawyer, Yassine Bouzrou, believes there is more to the story. “[There] were serious, recent lesions on the shoulder and head of the body, which could correspond to a blunt force,” he said
A number of French media confirmed the existence of the lesions, as well as a skull depression, after viewing a copy of the autopsy report.