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Morse reiterates strip search policy that allows intrusions without 'probable cause' that a crime occurred

2 weeks 6 days 5 hours ago Tuesday, June 25 2024 Jun 25, 2024 June 25, 2024 3:02 PM June 25, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE — Police Chief T.J. Morse reiterated in federal court Tuesday that it is proper for city police officers to strip-search people if they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime occurred, rejecting a lawyer's argument that the standard should be much higher.

Morse, who became chief this year after directing the agency's training division for years, replied "I don't know" to several questions involved in day-to-day operations, and testified that "I've never conducted a strip search, period" before U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick.

A lawyer is seeking to restrict when Baton Rouge Police officers may conduct intrusive searches of people they have not formally detained. Dick held a hearing Tuesday on a request for an injunction to at least temporarily stop the practice, but did not issue a ruling.

Morse said "pat-downs" are allowed anywhere, and under questioning by lawyer Thomas Frampton said officers don't have to reach a high bar.

"Can an officer strip search without probable cause?" Frampton asked.

"Yes," Morse replied.

BRPD has had a strip search policy since 1994 and it was last updated in 2022.

Frampton represents a man, Jeremy Lee, who says he was arrested "without reasonable suspicion or probable cause" and that he was beaten at a torture warehouse known as the BRAVE Cave. He says he suffered a fractured rib and that jailers refused to process him until he had gone to a hospital for the treatment of his injuries.

The lawsuit says Lee was cooperative but that officers pushed him, then proceeded to "pull his arms, and force him down in the middle of a paved street, where they pulled down his pants to search him."

Morse had said upon taking his job that would review all department policies, and said Tuesday he had not had time to go through all of them.

"I believe we exceed best practices. We go above and beyond the standards set forth by other departments," Morse said. "One officer's mistake doesn't call for policy change. It was just one officer."

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