After years of litigation, the trial against three police officers involved in the deadly pursuit of Sabrina El Bakkali and Ouassim Toumi in May 2017 will start this Tuesday. A new, independent research group has already published a reconstruction outside the courtroom. “The debate about the responsibility of the state must be public,” says human rights expert Rémy Farge of research agency Retrace.
The reconstruction is a collaboration between Retrace, an independent design agency of Rémy Farge, two architects and a video technician, with the newspaper Le Soir. Based on the inquest into the deaths of Sabrina and Ouassim, public videos and location data from the city, they created 3D simulations to visualize the entire police chase. “We want to understand and reconstruct the circumstances of the accident as best as possible, so that the necessary elements from the file are public and transparent,” explains Rémy Farge of Retrace.
Sabrina El Bakkali and Ouassim Toumi died in May 2017 after their motorcycle crashed into a police van at the end of the Bailiff tunnel on Avenue Louise. At that time, the young couple had already been chased for several streets by another police car, after they drove through Ixelles at high speed and without appropriate footwear around half past nine in the evening – according to the statements of the two occupants of the vehicle. Eventually, two additional police vehicles followed the motorcycle and a third van, with an officer from the dog brigade, positioned itself across the roadway of the tunnel. That is where the fatal collision ultimately took place. The three officers involved are now on trial. (Read more below the photo)
Retrace’s research maps the pursuit step by step. It also asks out loud questions about the justice and necessity of that pursuit. “We do not make the trial and do not speak out about truth, punishment or proportionality,” emphasizes Rémy Farge, who also works for the French-speaking Human Rights League. “We think it is important to discuss police pursuits outside the legal arena. Not only to question the responsibility of the individual officers, but also that of the state. That debate must be public.”
Retrace calls his methods ‘forensic architecture’: a way to place cases of (alleged) police violence or human rights violations in the urban environment. Similar research groups already exist in London and France. “We were trained by an NGO in France, but we do this all voluntarily,” says Farge.
In addition to Farge, the team consists of two architects and an engineer, who collaborated with for this research and the visualizations Le Soir. No new research is planned for the time being. Not even around other fatal police chases in recent years, such as that of Adil Charrot in 2020 or the fatal collision of Mehdi Bouda in 2019. “We do not yet have access to the necessary information in those files,” says Farge.
Years of procedural battle
The deaths of Sabrina and Ouassim in 2017 led to years of procedural battle between the victims’ family and the public prosecutor’s office. The public prosecutor’s office wanted to avoid prosecuting the three officers, but the council chamber did not agree and called the pursuit disproportionate. Ultimately, the Indictment Chamber referred the officers to the police court. It must decide this week whether the officers are guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Retrace works independently of the family and their lawyers, Farge emphasizes. A full report of the accident will appear this week on their website and can also be read in the newspaper Le Soir.