Police officer gets suspended jail term for yellow vest violence

French police restrain a man wearing a yellow vest, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher fuel prices, as demonstrators block the Champs Elysees Avenue in Paris, France, November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

A French policeman was handed a two-month suspended jail sentence on Thursday for hurling a paving stone at yellow vest protesters, the first conviction of a law enforcer since the protests started more than a year ago.

Critics regularly denounced brutal policing tactics during the weekly protests that began in November 2018 over a loss of spending power, which often spiraled into vandalism and running battles with police.

According to an official count, about 2,500 demonstrators and 1,800 security force members have been injured in the protests.

The riot policeman, 44, was put on trial for “deliberate violence by a person holding public authority.”

On two videos of the incident, shown during his trial, the officer is seen picking up a pavement stone and hurling it at demonstrators about eight meters (25 feet) away. It cannot be seen where the stone lands.

The court found the policeman had not acted in self-defense and was seeking to deliver a “physical or psychological shock” to make protesters stop throwing projectiles.

The officer will continue working, as the court decided to not enter the conviction into his criminal record.

In his defense, the policeman had told the court he acted “out of fear” and not anger, and threw the stone to “create some distance” for security reasons, but did not wish to hurt anyone.

Prosecutors had sought a three-month suspended sentence.

Another policeman will soon go on trial for having slapped a yellow vest protester in a confrontation that was also captured on video.

Demonstrators accuse police of using excessive force to suppress the movement, in particular by shooting rubber bullets which activists say have caused some two dozen people to lose an eye.

The IGPN police oversight body is investigating 212 cases of alleged police brutality during the yellow vest protests.

Fierce violence that flared during the protests made headlines worldwide, with rioters running amok in Paris and other cities, smashing shopfronts, torching cars and looting businesses.

Activists say that in addition to those blinded, five yellow vest protesters have lost a hand as a result of police stun grenades while one lost a testicle, and dozens sustained other injuries.

The protests erupted on November 17 last year over a planned fuel tax increase, which quickly snowballed into a general revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

His critics accused the former investment banker of ignoring the daily struggles of the working poor in rural and small-town France.