By Juliette Jabkhiro

BOBIGNY, France (Reuters) – Three French policemen went on trial on Tuesday accused of deliberately using excessive force in the arrest of a young Black man that left him disabled and sparked protests.

The arrest of Theodore Luhaka in 2017, when he was 22, was one of several cases in recent years that put the spotlight on rights groups’ accusations of systemic racism in the police and led to street protests in Paris and some of its suburbs.

One of the policemen, Marc-Antoine Castelain, beat Luhaka with a collapsible baton during the arrest in the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris, causing him anal injuries.

“The blow I gave was compliant with police rules and legitimate,” Castelain, 34, told the court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny.

He said Luhaka’s injury was “awful” and that he thought about it every day. Looking at Luhaka in the courtroom, he said he offered his “compassion”.

Along with fellow officer Jeremie Dulin, who is 42, Castelain faces charges of aggravated violence committed in a group, by members of the security forces, and with a weapon.

Another officer, Tony Hochart, 31, faces charges of violence aggravated by two factors. Charges were dropped against a fourth policeman who was present, and rape charges initially brought against Castelain were also dropped.

Security camera footage of the arrest showed Luhaka being beaten on the ground, according to a court document. Luhaka had to be transferred urgently to hospital and underwent several operations.

Defence lawyers described the force used during the arrest as legitimate.

“The simple fact to say that this violence is legitimate is really hard to hear,” said Luhaka’s lawyer, Antoine Vey. “We are starting the trial with some anguish, as we know it’s always very complicated for the justice system to judge policemen.”

Castelain faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty, Dulin faces 10 years and Hochart seven. A ruling is expected on Jan. 19.

(Reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro, editing by Timothy Heritage)

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