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Chief says BRPD supervisor orchestrated plot to cover up misconduct - See the full news conference here

8 months 3 weeks 5 days ago Thursday, September 28 2023 Sep 28, 2023 September 28, 2023 11:00 PM September 28, 2023 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE - The Baton Rouge Police Department held a press conference Friday detailing what led to criminal charges for several police officers implicated in the investigation into the agency's Street Crimes division.

During that news conference, Chief Paul said the officers involved the case were caught trying to cover up body camera video which showed misconduct during an arrest on Sept. 28, 2020.

A warrant detailing the incident says a man was stripped down by members of the Street Crimes unit in a bathroom at BRPD First District, which sits adjacent to the infamous "Brave Cave" site along Plank Road. Those documents allege that the man was stripped naked and beaten for not cooperating with the search.

One officer who witnessed what happened said more Street Crimes officers — including current Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr. — entered the bathroom after the man started screaming and threatened him.

"You see this guy here, he is about to knock you the f*** out of you," one officer reportedly told the man as he pulled out a taser. 

When a taser was activated, a mechanism automatically activated an officer's body camera, Chief Murphy Paul explained during a news conference Friday.

"The officers didn't realize the body camera was on until after the incident," Chief Paul said.

Arrest documents go on to say it was Officer Todd Thomas's body camera that captured part of the attack on video. He was then instructed by Street Crimes Commander Troy Lawrence Sr. to get rid of the body camera, according to the warrant.

At that point, it's alleged that Lawrence helped carry out an "organized plan" to cover up what happened. The scheme included stealing the body camera and then drafting up a phony letter claiming that it went missing.

"According to our investigation, a supervisor believed the contents on that video were a violation of our policy and excessive use of force," Paul said. "Then, directed the officer to get rid of the evidence so it could not be downloaded to the docking station."

WBRZ reported Thursday on the arrests of three officers linked to the incident: Troy Lawrence Sr., Jesse Barcelona and Todd Thomas. A fourth officer, Doug Chutz, was also implicated but had not been taken into custody as of Friday morning. 

Charges against Lawrence include malfeasance, obstruction, theft and principal to battery. Barcelona is charged with principal to theft and obstruction, as well as malfeasance. Thomas is charged with simple battery, theft and malfeasance and obstruction. Chutz will be arrested for malfeasance.

The Street Crimes unit, originally a division of BRPD that was assigned to the most violent corners of the city, was disbanded as the administration started investigating its officers' actions. It happened in late August as Mayor Sharon Weston Broome also ordered the shuttering of the Brave Cave, which was little more than an empty warehouse that doubled as a crude interrogation site where people claimed they were beaten and unlawfully strip-searched..

The FBI has also gotten involved in the investigation and is looking into whether officers abused their authority. 

Troy Lawrence Jr., another Street Crimes officer and son of the unit's former supervisor, resigned as the department started his termination process last month. He too was arrested last week on a charge unrelated to the Brave Cave investigation, police said. 

"The actions of a few don't define the entire force," Paul said.

During the news conference Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said despite the changes that have been made the culture that dates back 150 years needs to be cleaned up. 

"To put it in terms you can relate to, this is not time for an annual checkup," Broome said. "This is a time for a full body MRI to diagnose and reveal any dysfunction or wrongdoing. I owe that to officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department and every citizen of Baton Rouge."

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