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14 Feb, 2019 00:42

Yellow Vest boxing champ who punched police in viral video gets sentenced

A former professional boxer who became an unlikely star of the Yellow Vest protests after a video of him delivering blows to two French police officers went viral, has been sentenced to 30 months of jail, 18 of them suspended.

Christophe Dettinger, former French light heavyweight champion, was found guilty of assaulting police officers in Paris on January 5, as tensions were running high during a weekly Yellow Vest protest. The footage of Dettinger throwing punches at gendarmes has gained traction on social media, shooting him to fame, and was replayed during his trial on Wednesday.

Dettinger handed himself in two days after the incident, and argued that while he was ashamed of what he did he was not morally in the wrong. The retired boxer said that he charged the policemen on the spur of the moment to defend a fragile-looking woman pinned on the ground.

“When I see someone vulnerable being hit, I go, I cannot do otherwise. I do not look at the uniform, I look at the man who does that,” Dettinger said at the trial, as cited by Le Parisien.

The woman in question, bright pink-haired Gwenaelle Antinori Le Joncour, testified in the court that she was beaten by police and Dettinger indeed came to her rescue.

Le Joncour earlier told RT that the boxer essentially saved her life with his intervention. She said she was punched in the face and kicked by police and eventually found herself lying on the ground. The woman said that due to her health condition, any slap could have been her last.

“I have a severe lung disease, the slightest blow can cause them to tear. If that happens, I die. The boxer saved my life. If he hadn't done what he had, I would have died on the spot,” she told RT at the time.

Before his arrest in January, Dettinger posted a video on social media explaining that his judgment was clouded by anger after he saw “pensioners getting gassed” and other instances of police abuse.

“I defended this lady on the ground. When I see an injustice, I react, everything went very, very fast,” Dettinger said during the trial. At the same time, the former boxer admitted that he might have overreacted, telling the court that while rectifying one injustice, he “created another.”

READ MORE: 'It was his right to protest, now he has no livelihood’ – Yellow Vest on demonstrator who lost hand

Dettinger said that he “should have just pushed” the officers he believed were beating up innocent protesters, instead of staging an in impromptu boxing bout. He was confronted in court by one of his “victims,” a 27-year-old gendarme named Pierre, who testified that he did not beat up anybody and was not involved in any altercation with protesters prior to the incident.

Another officer is still on medical leave and could not come to court.

READ MORE: Porsches, Ferrari vandalized & set ablaze during chaotic Yellow Vest protest in Paris (VIDEOS)

Dettinger has drawn both praise and condemnation for his actions, becoming a controversial and divisive symbol of the French unrest. A fundraising campaign to cover his legal costs brought in over €117,000 ($180,000) before it was shut down after some suggested it was condoning violence against police.

Prosecution demanded 3 years in jail, including 1 year suspended, as punishment for Dettinger. The boxer's lawyers insisted that the man, who is a father of three and does not have a criminal record, should have been spared jail time. The charges Dettinger was indicted on carry a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison. The judge, however, sentenced him to 30 months, 18 months of which is suspended. Moreover, Dettinger will not be incarcerated all the time during his one year in jail and will instead enjoy so-called “semi-freedom,” which means that he will check into prison at night and will be free during the day.

The protesting pugilist's lawyer said that while he intends to fight for parole instead of "semi-freedom," he considers the sentence fair. "This is a solution that, in general, suits us...the punishment is justified" Hugues Vigier told RT France. "Our main task," the lawyer added, was to allow Dettinger "to see his relatives, save his job or quickly find a new one," and rejoin his fellow citizens "who love their country and who continue to show it."

The Yellow Vest protests that have started as a movement against fuel price hikes and turned into a rebellion against French President Emmanuel Macron's liberal economic and social policies, have been marred by instances of severe violence.

While the authorities blame radicals for mayhem in the streets, demonstrators accuse police of disproportionate use of force. Hundreds of people took to the streets in Paris suburbs on Wednesday to express solidarity with a Yellow Vest protester who had his hand torn off by a police grenade. About 3,000 have been injured in the clashes since November.

Some 1,800 people involved in the Yellow Vest protests have been already handed sentences, mostly for destruction of public property. Some 1,400 are still awaiting trial. On Friday, Eric Drouet, one of the unofficial leaders of the grassroots movement will go on trial on charges of illegally organizing a demonstration in Paris.

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