The disturbing footage from a May protest in Paris begins with a man in a black jacket, gray hoodie and police helmet forcefully pushing a woman down the street, his right hand tight around the back of her neck.
When those two disappear from the frame, the camera shows a group of police officers dragging a young man down the street. Another man in what appears to be civilian clothes is struggling against the protester, who is now kneeling. Then the first man in the black jacket reappears, approaches the kneeling man from behind, grabs him by the neck and yanks him away from the group. Then he beats him.
The video, which circulated on social media, was recorded at a Workers’ Day protest in May, and this week, the French newspaper Le Monde identified the black-jacketed man as Alexandre Benalla, a security aide to French President Emmanuel Macron. That identification prompted a series of questions, including what Benalla was doing at the protest to begin with, why he beat the protesters and whether his superiors knew about it and failed to respond appropriately. On Monday, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb will have to answer some of them as Parliament plans to grill him over whether the government mishandled the incident.
Regular parliamentary work has been paralyzed for two days with questions about why it took more than two months to inform judicial officials and why Benalla stayed in his post during that time. Questions over whether there was an official cover-up of his actions also have been raised, and whether Elysee employees have a measure of impunity not granted to others.
The incident and its aftermath have grown into a political scandal that took another turn Saturday as French investigators raided Benalla’s home in Issy-Les-Moulineaux, a suburb of Paris.
Collomb is facing accusations that he knew about Benalla’s behavior and didn’t take appropriate action. The 26-year-old Benalla was suspended for two weeks at the time but has appeared at a number of high-profile events since then. (The BBC reports that he worked as a bodyguard for Macron during his campaign and later was hired by the president’s chief of staff.)
Following outcry over the footage released this week, the Elysee dismissed him Friday. Benalla was taken into custody Friday along with another bodyguard, Vincent Crase, who also reportedly also appears in video footage from the May protest and has previously worked for Macron’s political party.
Agence-France Presse reported Saturday that three police officers also were taken into custody to face questioning over whether they provided Benalla with security camera footage that he hoped would prove himself innocent.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Benalla is not a police officer, but was wearing a visor that made him look like one. Le Monde reported that he asked for the day off in early May to “observe” the Workers’ Day protest; however, the footage that emerged this week makes it seem like he did more than just observe. Collomb said he has strongly condemned Benalla and Crase’s behavior.
But the incident has led to an awkward silence from Macron as his government faces questions over whether an Elysee employee was given special treatment to avoid legal trouble. And the belated referral of the issue to judicial authorities and what was widely viewed as insufficient action at the time by the Elysee Palace has triggered a firestorm from the opposition.
“If Macron doesn’t explain himself, the Benalla affair will become the Macron affair,” far-right politician Marine Le Pen tweeted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.