A deputy police chief and three other ranking officers in Louisiana face criminal charges after allegedly striking and tasing a suspect during an arrest then covering it up, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said Friday.
The criminal charges involving members of the now-disbanded street crimes unit coincide with investigations and lawsuits related to the unit’s involvement in an alleged police “torture warehouse” dubbed the Brave Cave.
Baton Rouge Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr., Sgt. Jesse Barcelona, and Cpls. Todd Thomas and Douglas Chutz face charges in the 2020 incident, including malfeasance in office, theft and obstruction of office.
Lawrence, Barcelona and Thomas were arrested on Thursday and later released, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office jail records show. Chutz, whose role in the incident is unclear, was arrested Monday on a charge of malfeasance and was later released, East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office jail records show.
The charges are not related to the Brave Cave, Paul said.
The warehouse, officially known as the Narcotics Processing Facility, “has been permanently closed and the Street Crimes Unit Officers have been disbanded and reassigned,” the police department previously said.
The scandal has prompted multiple investigations into the police department’s practices and the facility, including by the FBI and Baton Rouge police. The police department also faces litigation over the conduct of officers at the warehouse.
Paul said the 2020 incident began when a suspect was taken to a bathroom at a precinct to be strip searched. During the search, the suspect was both tased and struck by an officer.
The tasing of the suspect activated the officers’ body cameras, according to Paul. The officers showed their supervisor the video and the group then crafted a plan to dispose of the bodycam video and cover up the incident, Paul said.
“There is no room for misconduct or unethical behavior in our department. No one is above the law,” Paul told reporters.
Lawrence Sr. was placed on administrative leave this week, CNN has reported. The deputy chief’s son, former officer Troy Lawrence Jr., was named in a federal lawsuit alleging brutal and sexually humiliating interrogation tactics at the off-site warehouse, CNN has reported.
CNN has reached out to Lawrence Sr.’s attorney for comment. CNN has made several attempts to reach Barcelona and Thomas for comment. It’s unclear if they have retained an attorney. It’s also unclear if Chutz has hired an attorney.
The Baton Rouge Union Of Police released a statement this week saying it was “disheartened and dismayed,” by the disciplinary action against one of its highest-ranking officers.
Union spokesman Bill Profita said in a statement the alleged incident that led to the discipline of the deputy chief occurred more than three years ago and that details about it were “hard to come by.”
Profita, in a statement, called the accusations “nebulous.”
The Brave Cave site was the subject of a confrontational city council meeting in Baton Rouge Wednesday, with Paul verbally sparring with council members over accountability.
Council member Aaron Moak told Paul “the buck stops with you” and later asked that the chief “step back” from his position.
Visibly angry, Paul shot back that council members have stripped his department of funding and not supported him during his tenure.
Council members argued among themselves after council member Jennifer Racca called for Paul’s immediate removal from his position.
On Friday, Paul addressed the confrontational meeting.
“I do not apologize for standing up for what is right,” he said. “Though my passion have offended some, that was not my intention.”
Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome spoke about calls for Paul to resign immediately.
“Chief Paul already announced resignation…he will continue to be the chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department until November,” Broome said.
“The best plan for BRPD is to have a transition to an interim or new chief that is informed and well equipped and I believe that Chief Paul is an integral part of that process.”
Paul announced over the summer he would resign on November 3.
The chief said the investigation into the Brave Cave is ongoing.
A lawsuit filed last week alleges that Ternell Brown, a grandmother in Baton Rouge, was stopped by officers while she was in the car with her husband in June. Brown was carrying two different types of prescription pills in the same container – which the lawsuit said she lawfully possessed.
The grandmother was taken to the Brave Cave, “where she was forced to show officers that she was not hiding contraband in her vagina or rectum. After more than two hours, they let her go without charge,” according to the complaint.