Last August, I was at the National Police station, and two weeks ago in a courtroom at the Palais de Justice – No, I wasn’t arrested by the pooper-scooper patrol in Nice!
It all started with having lunch with two lady friends, after which I
wanted to go look at shoes (yes, I’m a shoe-aholic!). So there we were,
on a city bus chatting away, but noticed a young guy standing close-by –
noticed because he accidentally stepped on one of my friend’s foot – it
was nothing serious and apologies in French were exchanged.
We were getting off the bus, at the corner of Galeries Lafayette
department store, when one of my friends noticed her purse was unzipped
and wallet gone. Thinking the perpetrator was still on the bus, I
started pounding on the bus door, so the driver wouldn’t pull away.
Then, one of us noticed the same guy (who was next to us on the bus) had
also gotten off at this stop and was just standing around, like he was
waiting for someone or another bus.
I approached him and yelled at him, asking if he had stolen my
friend’s wallet and, of course, he said no. By then, the small crowd
that was waiting at the bus stop began to wonder what was going on (one
lady even took this guy’s photo with her phone). I then asked the guy to
turn around, thinking he had the wallet in the back pocket of his
jeans, and he (surprisingly) obeyed! As he was turning, and as the
jacked that was draped over one wrist moved ever so slightly, my friend
saw her wallet in his hand. Just then, as I was explaining to two nearby
French men what was going on, the guy took off running up the sidewalk.
Immediately, a Galeries Lafayette security guard (who just happened
to be standing outside the store’s side entrance) gave chase after the
guy, who by now, was somewhat far ahead. As (more) luck would have it,
this guard noticed, and yelled up ahead to, one of his colleagues who
was coming on duty walking towards the running guy – the assailant was
nabbed and the two guards escorted him into the store’s private back
room (I assume where they hold accused shoplifters) and called the
police. We waited and waited…..
So much for shopping for shoes! Our afternoon was blown, as all this
took a lot of time – this IS France, after all! Next, our friend had
to go to the police station to file a report (she rode in the same
police car as the perpetrator, with lights flashing and siren wailing,
while my other friend and I had to take the tram and find the National
FAST FORWARD: The court date was set for my friend to
testify against the accused “serial pickpocket,” who had also given a
false name – no surprise there! I offered to go with my friend: as a
witness, for moral support, and for interpreting purposes – the court
doesn’t provide translators. We were there with a lot of other people,
victims and perpetrators alike, all sitting on hard benches, waiting for
our case to be called. It was chaotic and noisy, with attorneys and
courtroom staff talking all at once to the judge and milling about, all
in black robes with fuzzy white poms-poms hanging around their neck and
click-clacking shoes – the acoustics were terrible, which made it doubly
hard to understand.
Suddenly, our guy entered the room with a woman, but after quietly
speaking with one of the courtroom officials while another case was
being debated, he left – what the hell was going on? We had already
waited an hour or so, and the court had even been adjourned for 15
minute (a coffee/cigarette break? – this IS France, after all!)
When the court came back into session and a case was being heard, I
crouched over to the same official to ask why the guy had left and was
told he needed to go get a document, and we needed to wait. So, having
no choice, we listened to a few petty crime cases with the judge handing
out sentencing, as well as two serious crime cases where the accused
had already been held in prison – these guys were brought out in
handcuffs, escorted by a couple of policemen, and had to stand behind a
plexiglass, screened area on the right side of the courtroom – the funny
thing was – it wasn’t that high in front and these guys could have
jumped over it in no time to get to the judge!
Finally, ‘our’ guy came back in and the case was called.
We all had to go up front where my friend positively identified the guy
as the one who took her wallet, and (with my translating) gave a resume
of events on that August day. The guy’s defense was telling the judge
that he didn’t know who he was, where he was born, and that he had been
adopted by gypsies who made him steal – all he wanted was to work and
live a normal life with his wife (apparently the lady who was with him).
The judge then asked him where he worked, to which he answered that he
didn’t have a job, to which the judge gave a “of course” type smirk.
The judge then continued to read outloud this guy’s long rap sheet of
pick pocketing crimes, with quite a few done on public transportation
(seen as criminally more serious). The guy again repeated his sob story,
with tears in his eyes, trying to emotionally sway the judge – who
obviously wasn’t buying any of it, sentencing the guy to eight months in
prison and thanking my friend for doing her civic duty in showing up to
testify. I have to admit, we both felt a little bad for the guy (we are
human, after all), but also felt vindicated and proud we persevered!
We never did get to shop for shoes that day, and next time, we’ll WALK!