Serious charges dismissed after written report doesn't match body cam footage
PLAQUEMINE- The Plaquemine Police Department is reviewing and changing body camera procedures after two police officers wrote in a report that they saw drugs in plain sight when their body cameras never recorded that.
When officers were investigating a man asleep at a McDonalds back in 2016, they approached Ethan James' truck with body cameras rolling. The first officer saw James asleep behind the wheel in the parking lot. During that approach, the cup holders in James' truck appear to be empty. However, when officers wrote their report about James' arrest for possession of cocaine, they noted the cocaine was in the left cup holder in plain view.
"I see no cocaine in the vehicle," James' defense lawyer, Andy Dejean said after viewing the officers' body cam video. "They allegedly find cocaine in the front left cup holder of the vehicle of the truck that my client was driving. I'm looking at the vehicle and your eyes don't lie. There's no cocaine."
In fact, officers questioned James about the alleged cocaine they found.
"It just magically appeared in your truck," an officer asks James. "It's funny how crack just appears in people's s***."
When James took a polygraph test, he passed. Prosecutor Scott Stassi threw out the charge noting the discrepancies in the written reports and the body camera footage. Stassi said there are other charges pending against James.
The WBRZ Investigative Unit searched James' criminal history and he's well-known to law enforcement. James had one prior drug conviction for possession of marijuana and other convictions for fighting.
"I think the authorities need to look into it," Dejean said. "Whether it be the FBI, U.S. Attorney's office or somebody needs to be looking into this."
Plaquemine Police Chief Kenny Payne is defending his officers' actions.
"The two officers did it the best they know," Payne said. "They are impeccable in their decision-making process and their character."
Payne said the officer involved is 6 feet 2 inches tall and his body camera didn't capture the crack inside the car but says it was in there the entire time.
"It's been tested," Payne said. "It is cocaine and we still have it in the evidence locker room."
Even though Payne said this was a good arrest, he can't control what happens when it gets to the district attorney's office.
Payne said the next step is changing procedures, which would require officers to unhook their body cameras and film the evidence to make sure it's captured on video in the future.
"Not to say anything that was done was done wrong... But we need to fine-tune it a bit," Payne said. "We are in a constant change these days with social media and cameras. So, sometimes we are in catch-up mode and have to change policies and procedures to do better for the end result. When they are arrested, we've got to follow it all the way through to a conviction."
The WBRZ Investigative Unit has the officers' names but made an editorial decision not to identify them. At least one of the officers is no longer working for the Plaquemine Police Department. That officer is now with the Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office.