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Councilman wants police chief to resign over video showing handcuffed man beaten

2 months 2 weeks 2 days ago Thursday, August 13 2020 Aug 13, 2020 August 13, 2020 5:41 PM August 13, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

HAMMOND- Nearly 24 hours after the State NAACP and local chapters called for the resignation of Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron following a WBRZ Investigative Unit report, some city council members are joining the fight.

The video first exposed Tuesday showed a handcuffed man being beaten, tased and kicked in a booking room after he was taken into custody for drug possession. That video and a damning report by an independent consultant calling the actions excessive and borderline criminal are from the incident in 2017, but were just leaked out recently.

Multiple Hammond City Council members that we spoke to are disturbed by the video. They said they asked to see the video two years ago, but were told no. Instead, they were only given clips and they believe they were lied to by the city's administration.

"It's nothing new, this is what we do in Hammond... Hide the truth," Councilman Devon Wells said.

Wells is calling for Chief Bergeron to resign following the video he claims he asked him about last year.

"I talked to the chief myself and said, 'you don't think this is video we need to play at the city council where everyone can see what's going on?' He told me at the time they couldn't do that," Wells said.

Now, he knows why. The video shows Kentdrick Ratliff being beaten, tazed, kicked and stomped. Ratliff was approached by police in December of 2017 for parking over a sidewalk. Inside his car, officers found pill bottles. Things took a dramatic turn inside the booking room, where  Ratliff admits he made a mistake and reached for the pills.

"If everyone tells the truth, we wouldn't have this problem right now," Wells said.

The WBRZ Investigative Unit has been trying to get answers from the City of Hammond for a month regarding the video. Thursday, we went to the mayor's office. We waited for an hour and were told he wasn't in. We asked for the Director of Administration, Lacy Landrum. We were told she was on the phone. Despite her allegedly being on the phone that entire hour, people were coming and going from her office the entire time. But she never came to answer our questions.

"The mayor needs to come out and let the public know what's going on," Wells said. "This is what I've been stating since day one. Any problems we have, it starts with the administration first."

Wells said he voted to confirm Bergeron into the chief's position last year. Now, he's demanding his resignation.

"Chief, I'm very disappointed in you," Wells said. "As a friend, and I thought we were friends, that you would have at least told me the truth of what was going on, the entire video and not just a clip."

Late Thursday afternoon, the City of Hammond issued the following written statement.

"Shortly after the December 2017 jail incident occurred, James Stewart, the Hammond police chief, reviewed the incident video and reports in detail and recommended an internal investigation of one officer with regards to excessive force. He didn't recommend an investigation of the other officers. The investigation concluded with me suspending the officer for 60 working days and requiring additional training.

Running concurrently with the internal investigation, Chief Stewart gave all the video and reports to the FBI for an external investigation. After that review, the FBI took no action against any of the officers.

In March of 2019, the video was again the subject of discussion at two public hearings concerning the appointment of Chief Edwin Bergeron Jr. It was specifically mentioned by nine different people with a conclusion that it had been investigated, and Chief Bergeron was confirmed by the Hammond city council.

But I think we're missing the untold story about the dedicated work of the Hammond Police Department and Chief Bergeron. Under his leadership, we now have officers assigned to every school to interact with kids in meaningful ways on a regular basis instead of only coming when something is wrong. We had a reduction in crime last year, and we're trending with more reductions this year. We've taken 116 illegal guns off the street just since January. He established annual training for all officers in de-escalation, unconscious bias, and cultural diversity.

In June, when we had a peaceful protest in Hammond, Chief Bergeron stood outside with the crowd, brought them water, and prayed with them. At the end of that same week, we had a man drive into the Target store and around town dropping off what turned out to be fake bombs. Due to Chief Bergeron's leadership and the professionalism and training of our officers, that man was taken into custody with no harm to anyone – not a bystander, not a police officer, and not the suspect himself. Later that month, the chief participated with our local NAACP chapter in a half-day summit discussing police and racial issues in our community. His actions show that he cares and he's invested in this community.

With all of this going right, why is the video coming up again? It seems more motivated by a personal vendetta instead of a real interest in the public safety of Hammond."

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