INVESTIGATIVE UNIT: Report says officers' actions were excessive force, borderline criminal
HAMMOND - A damning report accompanied with a video from a booking room dust-up in 2017 was leaked to the WBRZ Investigative Unit and is raising questions about why nothing happened to some of the officers seen in the video using extraordinary force on a man who was handcuffed.
Hammond Police approached Kentdrick Ratliff in 2017 for obstructing a sidewalk. Officers initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle which led to Ratliff's arrest after officers found pill bottles inside the car. The police report notes that the bottles contained Xanax, Marijuana, and a so called legend drug. Ratliff was taken to a booking room where things took a dramatic turn.
The audio and video of what happens next were captured from the booking room. The report that accompanies that video from an independent consultant out of Texas is raising questions about whether there should be better training.
"I first saw it two weeks ago," Attorney Ravi Shah said.
Shah represented Ratliff in the criminal case Hammond Police levied against his client.
Shah said since the incident occurred in 2017, he's been trying to get his hands on the video. He finally got it last month.
"When I brought this to the attention to the district attorney's office and requested the video of the incident in booking, they relayed to me that they had an email from someone at Hammond PD that the video did not exist," Shah said.
Shah now calls the video disturbing.
In the booking room, Ratliff said he made a bad decision to reach for his pills that were sitting on a desk as officers were booking him. Following Ratliff trying to reach for his pills, Sergeant Edwin Bergeron immediately punches Ratliff five times with a closed fist. Ratliff then becomes jammed between the computers.
Nearly 20 seconds later, more officers arrive and Ratliff is tazed. Sergeant Thomas Mushinsky then delivers a kick to the inside of the suspect's leg.
More help eventually arrives and a minute later another officer is seen kicking Ratliff in the head with his foot. The entire time that Ratliff was subdued, one of the officer's heavy leather tactical boot was on Ratliff's neck. Another officer kneeled on him.
"I got beat, stomped, kicked in my groin," Ratliff said.
Out of the nearly dozen officers that were in the booking room that night, only one faced discipline. Sergeant Thomas Mushinsky got disciplined for kicking Ratliff.
In 2018, Mushinsky and his attorney commissioned the Use of Force Consultants Inc., out of McKinney, Texas to review the case. The report used for Mushinsky's defense shows that the kick that was used was a trained distraction technique.
Those analyzing the video noted that the force that Officers Dunn and Sergeant Bergeron used was "excessive and borderline criminal."
The report notes that their training, "HFRG/PPCT does not advocate strikes to the face on a handcuffed subject. There were six strikes delivered by Sgt. Bergeron and three strikes by Officer Dunn. Ratliff was of no threat to either officers at this time."
"What shocked me is that they would so blatantly lie and tell another officer of the court that the video did not exist, and it did at one point and clearly still exists now showing what happened to my client," Shah said.
Nearly a year after the incident, Sgt. Bergeron was promoted to Hammond Police Chief.
CITY OF HAMMOND RESPONSE
The WBRZ Investigative Unit requested an interview with Chief Bergeron. He told the WBRZ Investigative Unit he was not authorized to speak to the media, and we had to go through the city. A spokesperson said there would be no interviews. Instead, she called this situation irrelevant.
In a follow-up email request, the following response was sent by Lacy Landrum, the Director of Administration for the City of Hammond.
"Shortly after the December 2017 incident occurred, James Stewart, the Hammond police chief, reviewed the incident video and reports in detail and recommended an internal investigation of one of the officers with regards to excessive force. He did not recommend an investigation of the other officers. The investigation resulted in the mayor imposing discipline of a 60-day suspension and additional training for the officer. That officer appealed the discipline to the Hammond Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. As part of his appeal, the officer presented the report you cited to the board. The report's author was hired and paid by the officer to support his appeal. The report went directly to the board and was never presented to the city. In April of 2018, the police chief provided the incident video and reports to the FBI for their review, and after that review, the FBI took no action against any of the officers.
In addition to the above, this incident was the subject of public discussion and review in connection with the appointment of Edwin Bergeron to police chief in March of 2019."
When the dust finally settled, the 13 serious charges like disarming a police officer, resisting an officer violently, and criminal damage to property that Ratliff faced were all dismissed except for two. One was a misdemeanor drug charge and the other, resisting arrest. Ratliff said it was easier to plea than continue to fight. He was set free the next day, after sitting in jail for nearly four months.
Community activists are demanding change.
"You have a situation where an officer got away with beating a handcuffed African American through a desk and became police chief, if that's not concerning, I don't know what is," Jermaine Luckett said.
Luckett is now speaking up for Ratliff as the full video and the report comes to light.
"First note that there are people that are on the force that are great," Luckett said. "This is not an attack on police. This is saying that if something is wrong in the department, the citizens have the power to stand up do it the right way and get them out of office."
Luckett believes the video and report should have been made public when the incident happened. Now, he along with a handful of officers in the Hammond Police Department are all working together in hopes of getting some answers.
"An effective solution in my mind is to restart the investigation completely," Luckett said. "Investigate the cover-up, exactly what happened, and let the law justly decide. Bring justice for Mr. Ratliff."
Former Police Chief James Stewart was so disturbed by the case, he turned it over to the FBI. The city said the feds reviewed the case and took no action against any of the officers.