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A Beating, a Bloodied Club and a Scandal Shake France’s No. 2 City

August 14, 1995

PARIS (AP) _ It was a crime that easily could have gone unsolved.

There were no witnesses in the remote quarry on the northern outskirts of Marseille, where a Moroccan-born man says three police officers beat him and terrorized him with their weapons.

But one officer left behind a bloody truncheon. When he returned for it, authorities apprehended him and arrested the other two, starting a scandal that threatens to ignite new ethnic tensions in France’s second-largest city.

On Sunday, a judge jailed the three officers _ Squad Chief Andre Palpacuer, 46, and deputies Jose Matteo, 45, and Jacques Labit, 38 _ pending a probe of Friday evening’s vicious attack in the Mediterranean port.

Marseille police sources said the three officers were stripped of their guns and badges and suspended. On Sunday, they were charged with premeditated violence, civil rights offenses and theft.

``The Rambos of Marseille Imprisoned,″ the Paris newspaper France-Soir blared in a headline today. ``Our police are sick,″ editorialized the Journal de la Haute-Marne.

The scandal broke amid simmering ethnic tensions across France. Reeling from high unemployment, many French consider immigrants an economic threat, and authorities are probing North African connections to the July 25 Paris subway attack that killed seven people and injured more than 80 others.

Interior Minister Jean-Louis Debre ordered a more thorough investigation after reviewing the results of a preliminary inquiry into the attack.

``What has happened upsets me,″ said Michel Sapin, police chief for the Marseille region. He said the inspector general of the National Police _ France’s federal internal affairs agency _ was involved in the investigation.

The initial investigation indicates police stopped Sid Mohamed Amiri, 29, an unemployed man, for a routine identity check. When he resisted, the three officers drove him to a quarry, where they reportedly kicked him and beat him with their truncheons.

The officers told superiors that Amiri had tried to slip away from the identity check and they preferred to deal with the situation right away rather than taking him to police headquarters.

But Amiri told investigators in a deposition that the officers pulled their guns on him and stole about $400 from him _ an accusation the three have denied.

Amiri, a French citizen, suffered a broken nose and multiple bruises in the attack.

Marseille is home to some 100,000 immigrants from North African nations who have sought new lives, and sometimes citizenship, in the city just across the Mediterranean from Algeria and Tunisia.

But the once-prosperous port has fallen on hard times, and crime and joblessness are rampant. Support is strong there for extreme nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who favors the expulsion of 3 million immigrants.

``The climate is particularly tense in Marseille right now,″ said Sapin, the police chief, ``and the police are in the middle.″