ALL RISE! (LEVEZ-VOUS!): A crime in Nice

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 police headquarters.

FAST FORWARD: Two weeks ago was the court date 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!

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