‘Justice can be cruel, but we ask for acquittal. The three officers made no mistake.” It was the end of a long and emotional plea from the Attorney General in the case of Sabrina El Bakkali (20) and Ouasim Toumi (23). Since the investigation was completed, the public prosecutor’s office has requested that the officers not be prosecuted. Ultimately, the indictment chamber referred the case to the police court. ‘I listened carefully, and it is about a human drama. But the court cannot cure everything,” he concluded.
The couple died on May 9, 2017, after a police chase on Avenue Louise in Brussels. Two police officers in a patrol car noticed the duo on the motorcycle. Toumi, who was driving, was driving too fast and had not used his turn signals. El Bakkali, who was on the back, was not wearing the right shoes for their Suzuki GSX-R600.
Both the police patrol and the young couple did not know that at the end of the Bailiff Tunnel another officer was participating in the pursuit. The officer placed his car at the end of the tunnel, in the right lane. Toumi drove into him. Six years later, the three officers involved have to answer for accidental killing.
Done what had to be done
According to the public prosecutor’s office, the police patrol cannot be blamed for chasing the motorcycle at all costs. ‘Barely 2 minutes and 22 seconds, that’s how long the chase lasted.’ According to the public prosecutor’s office, there was not enough time to decide to stop the pursuit. ‘Barely 50 seconds after the officers received the information about the license plate, they drove into the tunnel.’ According to the public prosecutor’s office, the civil party’s argument that the pursuit was not necessary – because they knew the owner of the motorcycle – also does not apply. “Both the motorcyclist and his passenger could not be identified as they were wearing helmets.”
On Tuesday, the hearing in the small room of the Brussels police court took place under high emotional tension. In addition to a lot of press attention, activists and sympathizers of the affected El Bakkali and Toumi families also came to the court. The room was packed, family members had to sit on the floor in the aisle.
The court chairman had to intervene several times due to noise in the room. El Bakkali’s father had to be taken outside by one of his sons, overcome with emotion. During the defense’s arguments, the chairman threatened to adjourn the hearing due to the numerous interruptions. There was a commotion, especially when Romain Delcoigne, lawyer for the two officers in the pursuing car, referred to the attacks and said that ‘the people on the motorcycle could just as well have been terrorists with an AK-47’.
Delcoigne argued that his clients did what they had to do. ‘The judge must decide in this case what we expect from the police. If you convict the officers, you give the green light to anyone who makes a traffic error and then flees.’ The lawyers of the civil parties replied to him: ‘If you acquit the officers, you give the police the green light to pursue, even if it costs someone their life.’
When SK, the passenger in the pursuing police car, had the last word, he turned to the family: ‘My sincere regret for what happened. I think about that night every day, and I think about you guys every day.”