Judges investigating the alleged rape in 2014 of a Canadian tourist at the headquarters of Paris's criminal investigation unit, the Police Judiciaire, have ordered more than 100 police officers to submit to DNA testing in the search for a suspect.
The public prosecutor's office in Paris confirmed Thursday that three days of testing had begun at the élite unit's headquarters, which is commonly referred to as "36 Quai des Orfèvres," after its prestigious address on the banks of the River Seine.
The testing will include officers and administrative staff from three different police units, including the Research and Intervention Brigade (BRI), the crime squad, and the drug squad.
Jean-Marc Berlière, a French historian who specializes in the history of the nation's police, said that, to his knowledge, there is "no precedent" for such a large-scale internal operation in the history of French law enforcement. He was also skeptical that officers would submit willingly to testing.
"I assume their reaction will be hostile. Some of them will think it's normal, but they will keep that to themselves," he remarked. "Within the police, the rule of solidarity and the code of silence prevail."
A fateful night
The woman, who was 34-years-old when the alleged crime took place last year, met a group of off-duty BRI officers at an Irish pub located across the street from the police headquarters. The men, who were heavily inebriated following a night of drinking, offered to take the woman on a tour of their offices, which are famous for having been depicted in many novels, films, and TV shows. She filed a criminal complaint later that night saying that she had been raped by the officers. The public prosecutor's office in Paris soon launched an investigation into allegations of gang rape and tampering with the scene of a crime.
On April 26, two officers of the BRI were charged with raping the woman. One of them denied having had sexual relations with the woman, while the other maintained that the sex was consensual. Both were confirmed as suspects after their DNA was found on her underwear. A third officer was given the status of "assisted witness," which means he could face charges at a later date.
On April 27, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuvesuspendedthe three police officers, following a recommendation by the chief of police.
"Beyond the elements that will be communicated to me when the investigation is complete, the behaviors revealed by this case are unacceptable," the minister said. "Things happened on the premises of 36 that had no business happening there."
Investigators are now looking to find a match for a third DNA sample found during the medical examination to determine whether another officer was involved in the incident. The French radio station RTL reported that the woman told investigators that she had also had sex with a man she encountered in the Luxembourg Garden, a Paris park, a few hours before she met the officers and was taken to the headquarters.
The woman returned to Canada following the incident and has since receivedcounseling.
According to French radio stationEurope 1, one of the suspects sent explicit text messages to his colleague on the night of the incident, including one urging him to "hurry up," as the woman was "really into gang bangs." The officer's phone records also indicate that the suspect shot a video that was erased the next day.
French authorities have not yet indicated when the results of their mass DNA testing operation will be disclosed.
An organization mired in scandal
The rape investigation is just the latest controversy in a wave of scandals that have rocked the Paris police in the last few years. In December 2013, Christian Flaesh, the chief of the Police Judiciaire, was sacked by then-Interior Minister Manual Valls for allegedly tipping off a politician who was due to be questioned as part of an investigation into former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 campaign funding. His replacement was charged and suspended over similar allegations earlier this year.
A Paris police officer is also suspected of stealing 52 kilos of seized cocaine that went missing from the drug squad evidence vaults in August 2014.
"Police officers are constantly rubbing shoulders with criminals, and this leads to ambiguities," explained Berlière, when quizzed about the missing cocaine. The historian explained that the Police Judiciare investigators sometimes "pay for intelligence by turning a blind eye to certain offenses."
Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @lucieabrg