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BRPD dismantles unit linked to 'Brave Cave' probe, launches criminal investigation into officers' actions

5 months 3 weeks 2 days ago Thursday, August 31 2023 Aug 31, 2023 August 31, 2023 11:59 AM August 31, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The Baton Rouge Police Department has scuttled its Street Crimes unit, a division dedicated to tackling crime in the most violent corners of the city, as the agency faces scrutiny over its use of a little-known processing facility known as the "Brave Cave."

Mayor Sharon Weston Broome also said a preliminary probe yielded enough "disturbing" evidence to trigger a criminal investigation into the workings of the Street Crimes unit. All officers — nine in total — who were part of the unit are being reassigned to BRPD's Uniform Patrol division for the time being, a city spokesperson told WBRZ in a statement. 

The announcement came Thursday morning as the city continues to grapple with the fallout of a lawsuit that alleged physical abuse took place inside the Brave Cave, located at a police substation on Plank Road. 

The litigation exposed body camera video taken inside the crude interrogation facility, showing it to be little more than a mostly empty warehouse. While top BRPD leaders said Tuesday they were surprised to hear officers using the name "Brave Cave," they clarified the facility itself had been in use for more than 20 years. 

"I'm very familiar with this facility, that I can honestly say thousands of suspects have been processed in over the years," Chief Deputy Myron Daniels said. "I was shocked to hear the name 'Brave Cave.'"

On Thursday, however, Broome emphatically declared the warehouse would no longer be used for police activity, walking back previous statements from Police Chief Murphy Paul saying that the building would be reworked into a proper processing facility.

"This facility will remain closed permanently, and it will not be used for policing activity going forward," Broome said Thursday.

An officer implicated in the Brave Cave lawsuit — Troy Lawrence Jr. — resigned this week as top brass at the agency began his termination process. Lawrence, the son of a BRPD deputy chief, was previously the target of multiple complaints alleging excessive force. Those complaints led to lawsuits that have already cost the city upwards of $100,000 in settlements.

Attorney Ryan Thompson represents Jeremy Lee, the man at the center of the latest lawsuit who alleges he was taken to the Brave Cave and beaten while the cameras weren't rolling.

"After a search warrant was executed at a home, he was arrested for a litany of charges. Subsequently, he was taken to this place — that was unknown to me at the time — the 'Brave Cave,'" Thompson explained. "Upon entering the Brave Cave, several officers — including Troy Lawrence Jr. — took off their vests, including the body-worn camera."

While the cameras were off, Thompson alleges that Lawrence attacked Lee, initiating a "gang-style" beating from the officers. At some point, the body cameras were turned back on, showing Lee seated in a chair across from an officer inside what appeared to be a mostly empty warehouse with no obvious police markings.

"Subsequently he has broken ribs, abrasions above the eye, and looking at the video you can see he has a bump and a gash above his eye," Thompson explained. 

See video from inside the "Brave Cave" here

The lawsuit related to Lee's arrest is pending in Baton Rouge court. 

WBRZ previously covered the Street Crimes unit in 2021, when BRPD disbanded another controversial unit within its department: the BRPD Narcotics Division. The narcotics team was shuttered after relentless WBRZ Investigative Unit reports exposing corruption in its ranks. After the Narcotics Division was dissolved, BRPD said its space was taken over by the Street Crimes Unit. 

It's unclear how the latest shake-up will affect the department's operations.

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