4 Baton Rouge officers charged in connection with “brave cave” scandal

According to the police chief’s announcement on Friday, the scandal-plagued Baton Rouge Police Department has detained four of its own officers, including a deputy chief, and charged them with attempting to hide the use of excessive force during a strip search inside a department restroom.

According to CBS affiliate WAFB, Corp. Douglas Chustz, Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence, Sr., Corp. Todd Thomas, and Sgt. Jesse Barcelona were all detained on a number of crimes, including misbehavior, theft, and obstruction.

The FBI launched a civil rights investigation last week into claims that cops assaulted inmates in a secret warehouse known as the “brave cave,” which has put the department under further scrutiny. The officers that were detained belonged to the same street crimes section that managed the warehouse and was now disbanded.

At a news conference on Friday, Chief Murphy Paul declared: “Let’s be clear, there is no room for misconduct or unethical behavior in our department.” No one is exempt from the law.

Numerous lawsuits claim that the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit mistreated drug defendants at a recently closed drugs processing facility. Expert prosecutors and agents are “reviewing allegations that department members may have abused their authority,” according to the FBI.

The conclusions made public on Friday are the result of one of many administrative and criminal investigations into the street crimes section. In one case being investigated by the FBI, a man claims he was taken to the warehouse and severely beaten before being taken to jail.

In another, a grandmother named Ternell Brown filed a federal lawsuit alleging that she was subjected to an unauthorized strip search by police.

According to the lawsuit, Brown was stopped by police in a black Dodge Charger in June while she was traveling with her husband close to their Baton Rouge area. When police searched the car after ordering the couple out, they discovered tablets in a bottle, according to court filings. Brown claimed to be in “lawful possession” of the medications and that they were on a prescription. When they discovered she was carrying two different kinds of prescription medication in the same container, the police got concerned, according to the complaint.

Afterwards, according to the complaint, officers transported Brown to the unit’s “Brave Cave” without getting her permission or a warrant. The lawsuit claimed that the warehouse served as the “home base” for the Street Crimes Unit’s illegal strip searches.

According to the lawsuit, after two hours of detention by police during which she was ordered to undress, “she was released from the facility without being charged with a crime.”

Ryan Keith Thompson, Mrs. Brown’s attorney, told CBS News that what happened to her was “unconscionable” and “should never happen in America.”

Paul claimed that the evidence discovered on Friday came from an attempted strip search in September 2020, during which two cops from the squad reportedly struck and stunned a suspect with stun guns. The incident was recorded by police’ body cameras that they were unaware were activated.

After a supervisor judged the police had used excessive force, they then attempted to “get rid of” the tape. Paul claimed that the camera was removed at the cops’ request so that the “evidence could not be downloaded.” The bodycam video wasn’t released to the public.

The arrests of the officers, according to East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore to CBS affiliate WAFB, could endanger hundreds of criminal prosecutions.

These people would have been involved in several hundred cases throughout the years, according to Moore.

According to Moore, a typical officer can manage up to 400 cases a year.

“What we’re going to have to do is go through every case, one at a time, individually to determine what role, if any, either one of the four officers played in that case, and can we prove that case without that officer, or was that policeman even needed,” said Moore.


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