French prosecutors said Thursday that they had opened a probe into an alleged assault by a senior security officer working for President Emmanuel Macron who was identified in a video hitting a protester.
Alexandre Benalla, who was head of security during Macron's campaign last year and transferred to the presidential staff afterwards, is seen wearing a police helmet and visor during a demonstration on May 1 in the video published by Le Monde newspaper.
The incident can be seen below from around 1 minute 10 seconds.
Un collaborateur de Macron sanctionné pour avoir frappé un manifestant le 1er mai – La vidéo complète de ces violences: https://t.co/7kywY3B2JF
— David Perrotin (@davidperrotin) July 18, 2018
In the video Benalla can be seen grabbing the protester and dragging him along the ground even though he was already surrounded by five or six riot police officers.
He can also be seen hitting the protester several times on the back of the head amid shouts and screams from other people nearby.
Benalla then walks away when he realises he is being filmed. It is unclear what led the protester to be surrounded by riot police officers.
Le Monde writes: “Alexandre Benalla, a close advisor to the President of the Republic, equipped with a police helmet and visor even though he is not a police officer, attacked a young man who was on the ground during a demonstration in Place de la Contrescarpe
“He obviously acted without knowing he was being filmed on a mobile telephone.”
Prosecutors in Paris opened a probe on Thursday into possible charges of violence by a public official, of pretending to be a policeman and the illegal use of police insignia.
Imitating a policeman can lead to a prison term of up to a year and a fine of 15,000 euros.
The images caused uproar among the political class with politicians from all parties expressing their outrage.
Many wanted to know why the member of Macron's staff was allowed to manhandle protesters and why the police did nothing to stop him.
Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said there was a “a double standard” in how Benalla had been treated compared to any ordinary French citizen.
Alexis Corbiere, an MP for the hard-left France Unbowed party, said Benalla “deserves to be punished with a prison sentence, at least a suspended sentence and with very heavy sanctions.”
Benalla had apparently been allowed to shadow a group of riot police officers on the day of the protest after expressing an interest in finding out how demonstrations were policed. He was however only supposed to “observe” the operations, according to the Elysée Palace.
Other pictures taken on the day showed him wearing a police armband which he had apparently taken off during the scuffle with the young man.
Pour ceux qui disent que ce n’était pas un policier le revoilà. pic.twitter.com/0pAqoXrnrD
— Taha Bouhafs? (@T_Bouhafs) May 2, 2018
President Macron has so far refused to comment on the incident, but the Elysée Palace confirmed that following the incident Benalla was suspended for two weeks without pay, demoted and given a final warning.
“This sanction was to punish unacceptable behaviour and it was a final warning before being sacked,” presidential spokesman Bruni Roger-Petit told
Although despite apparently having been demoted Benalla was pictured on board the open top bus that transported the victorious players down the Champs Elysées avenue on Monday before they met with Macron at the Elysée Palace.
Benalla continues to work at the Elysée Palace but pressure is growing on the president to fire him.
Benalla was a popular and ever-present member of Macron's campaign team, usually found several steps behind the then-candidate, and transferred to the presidential staff in May 2017.
Asked about the video and the investigation during a visit to southwest France on Thursday, Macron refused to comment, saying only: “I'm here with the people.”
The 40-year-old centrist was in Australia on May 1, a traditional day of demonstrations in France organised by trade unions, but which was marred this year by hundreds of black-clad anarchists who clashed with police and smashed up shops.
Macron condemned the violence at the time in a tweet, saying that “everything will be done so that those responsible will be identified and held accountable for their actions.”