French authorities are investigating a police officer's alleged assault of a protester during the May 1 demonstrations in Paris after videos of the officer inserting a baton into the back of the protester's pants circulated online.

In the video, the protester is seen struggling on the ground as several officers attempt to arrest him. One of the officers appears to introduce a collapsible baton between the protester's pants and underwear at least two times. The protester is then dragged along the ground by police before the video ends.

Footage of the incident, took place at around 2:38 p.m. at the intersection of boulevard du Montparnasse and boulevard Raspail, in the 14th arrondissement, was posted online by Clément Lanot, a reporter for CL Press, and the independent journalist David Dufresne, who shared a slowed-down version on Twitter (see the original version here). 



"The images are hard to watch," Dufresne said in his tweet.

The scene begins around 13 minutes into Lanot's video. We've included a few screenshots below.



Police oversight body opens investigation

The I.G.P.N., the police body tasked with investigating police forces, announced on Friday that it was investigating the incident. The Paris police prefecture said it would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

The I.G.P.N. has been called in to investigate “more than 200 times” since the beginning of the Yellow Vest protests, but there have not yet been any convictions, said Olivier Cahn, a criminal professor at the University of Tours.

Were the police officer's actions legal?

Vincent Ollivier, a lawyer based in Paris, said the police officer's actions may fall under Article 222-13 of the criminal code, which mandates three to five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine for violence against an individual. The incident caught on camera is particularly serious because the violence was carried out by a public service agent, Ollivier said.

"The actions taken by the officer could be included in police instruction manuals along with techniques like chokeholds and arm locks that the I.G.P.N. considers justified,” Ollivier said. 

Ollivier and Cahn said it was unlikely that the incident would be classified as a sexual assault and added that the police oversight body would not consider it a group assault, as only one officer is seen carrying out the act in the video.


More mobile police units depoyed

Many of the officers seen in the video are part of the mobile police units deployed to contain potentially violent protesters. This strategy has become increasingly popular under the new police prefect, Didier Lallement, who was named to his post in March, Cahn said. 

“It’s a tougher method, but not necessarily more efficient," Cahn said. "It often leads to incidents that tarnish the police’s reputation and penalise officers who behave professionally. And we see that it doesn't bring concrete solutions, since the protests and violence continue.”

The I.G.P.N. is also investigating two other incidents related to the May 1 demonstrations, in which a police officer is seen slapping a protester and a member of the security forces is seen throwing a paving stone toward protesters in videos posted online. 

This story was written by Liselotte Mas (@liselottemas).