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Baton Rouge Police Under Scrutiny Again For Use Of Force In Arresting A Black Child

The Baton Rouge Police Department
The Baton Rouge Police Department

For the second time in eight months, a bystander video capturing a Baton Rouge police officer restraining a Black teenager is sparking outrage and prompting calls for reform. The video, posted to social media on Sunday, shows the officer wrapping his arm around the neck of the boy as he pinned him to the ground.

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has pledged a “thorough” investigation and advocacy groups say the incident reinforces longstanding concerns over the department’s use of force on young people.

“We’re going to conduct an investigation into the incident and report our findings at the appropriate time,” Chief Murphy Paul of the Baton Rouge Police Department said during a Monday afternoon press conference. “Until then, we’re asking the community to respect the process that is in place right now so that we can conclude that investigation and present all of the facts that have been known to us.”

Paul said officers responded Sunday afternoon to complaints of a fight between the members of two families. One of the callers alleged that people were fighting with baseball bats, Paul said.

Two kids, both 13 years old, were arrested. One was booked on battery of a police officer, resisting arrest, and disturbing the peace. The other was arrested for disturbing the peace.

Paul said the department is asking a court for permission to release the body camera footage recorded by the officers who took part in the teenagers’ arrests. WWNO/WRKF does not name juveniles accused of crimes unless there are overriding needs, such as warning the public about immediate, dangerous situations. The identities of minors accused of crimes are alsos protected under state public records laws. 

Paul said the officer pictured in the viral video has not been placed on administrative leave and that the department would complete the investigation before taking further action.

“The investigation will make sure and determine if our officer was in compliance with his training and his procedures and if we need to change the procedures and training based on a review of the incident,” Paul said.

Attorney Ronald Haley, who has been hired to represent the boy shown in the video, confirmed that his client was arrested for battery of a police officer.

Haley expressed concern over the treatment of Black children as adults and questioned why the police were called to settle a dispute among children.

“I don't know why the police are coming in to handle a dispute between children in the neighborhood,” Haley said. “But if called out, I would hope that they would treat them not as adults, but as children, as human beings. And it does not appear that this happened.”

Haley said the incident did not require the officer to use the force that appeared to be used in the video. He added that if his client had had a weapon or posed a threat to someone else or himself, he would have received additional charges or been held longer.

“There's very few things where an officer must use all means necessary of non-lethal force to subdue someone,” Haley said.

Haley said his client suffered a busted lip, is experiencing headaches, and is having trouble sleeping. He said his client’s mother is “shaken up” over the incident and overwhelmed by the coverage that the video involving her child has received thus far.

Advocates Say It’s ‘Very Distressing, But Nothing New’

Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broom, who joined Paul during Monday’s press conference, called for a prompt and transparent review of the incident.

“BRPD officers have hundreds of encounters that we never hear of because they go without incident,” Broome said. “Yet, it is incumbent on me to use my role as mayor to bring attention to those that are questionable in order to help build public trust and ultimately encourage the best policing tactics from our officers.”

But activists and children’s rights advocates say BRPD has a long history of questionable use of force on children.

Rachel Gassert, policy director for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, said the footage was distressing but all too familiar.

“We have footage of BRPD assaulting yet another black child,” Gassert said. “It’s clear we don’t need another review. What we need is accountability and drastic systemic change.”

Gassert pointed to similar footage of BRPD officers kneeling on the upper back and neck of 17-year-old Dillion Cannon last year and recent reports of BRPD’s use of police dogs on juvenile suspects — the vast majority of whom were Black and only accused of nonviolent property crimes.

Gary Chambers, a long time Baton Rouge activist and recent candidate for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, called for the immediate firing of the officer in the video and for an unambiguous ban on chokeholds.

“We have seen too many young people be handled like this by the police,” Chambers said. “I’m not looking for legal terminology. I’m looking for results.”

Gassert suggested that a simple ban may not get those results, and that an overhaul of the system is needed.

“We've seen attempts to ban chokeholds, and the practice continues, regardless of whether they're prohibited or not,” Gassert said. “So I think that's an example of why banning these practices simply is not enough … It becomes very slippery to define whether it was in fact, a chokehold.”

Haley, who represents Dillion Cannon and many other black teenage boys who have alleged the excessive use of force by police officers in Louisiana, said policies should ban any type of neck restraint.

“Anything pertaining to the use of force at the neck, that can cut off the oxygen of an individual does not need to be used. There are other things that can be done. We've seen the deadly results from that,” Haley said, referencing Eric Garner and George Floyd. “And to do that to children causes great angst and it should cause great angst from the community.”

Cannon’s arrest happened six weeks after Floyd’s death. It was followed by cries for improved training.

Paul said Monday that the department brought in a third-party company to investigate the Cannon incident and that efforts yielded some recommended policy changes. But Paul did not offer any further details on the company’s recommendations.

Reverend Alexis Anderson, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison Reform Coalition said instead of training, the officers need rules and accountability.

“They need standards. And the community has to put standards down. We have to codify them in law and these people have to be held accountable,” Anderson said. “There has to be community accountability [because] the rules of normal decency don’t apply.”

When it comes to transparency, Haley said Paul is doing more than other police leaders in other parts of the state.

“I do appreciate the fact that Chief Paul, in comparison to his counterparts across the state, is true to his word in regards to immediately releasing information that is either critical or that folks need to know,” “We beat the pavement of transparency and accountability. We may not always get that accountability, but we do get transparency with the changes that he's done.”

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