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 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 January 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 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 on 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 2,000 and 3,000 euros (USD2,250 and USD3,400).
The scene on January 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.
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. Today 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.