By Marjorie Childress
The New Mexico Independent
Baton Rouge police officers showed racial bias, conducted illegal searches and employed excessive force, said some New Mexico state troopers who left Louisiana after only two days of working alongside the Baton Rouge cops. Reports filed by the New Mexico officers have now been published in a local newspaper, The Advocate.
The documents from an internal investigation by the Baton Rouge Police Department have become public just now, after a lawsuit initiated by The Advocate in July 2006 was successfully argued before the Louisiana state Supreme Court last year.
The newspaper has put a document online that includes a letter sent by New Mexico State Police Maj. Daniel Lopez on Sept. 13, 2005 to the Baton Rouge police department plus personal reports that Lopez directed New Mexico state troopers to write describing what they witnessed on patrol with Baton Rouge police those two days in September 2005.
The state troopers from New Mexico and Michigan were pulled out of Baton Rouge two days after arriving to help the local police in September 2005. Baton Rouge police officers “commented or implied” to New Mexico troopers that they had been directed to make things “as rough as possible” for the people who had arrived from New Orleans in order to discourage them from staying in Baton Rouge, according to the letter by Lopez.
“Officer King is a good officer but does seem to handle black people differently than he would a pretty Caucasian woman,” officer Gregory A. Hall wrote in his report. “Each time Officer King would make contact with a Caucasian person he would be friendly and pleasant. But when he spoke with a black person he was very loud, rude and demeaning.”
“‘As long as they want us to harrass these people and run them out of town, I will gladly do it,”‘ Hall quoted a Baton Rouge police officer later in his report.
Hall went on to describe the beating of a teenage black male by the police officers who “had no probable cause to stop, was illegally searched and had nothing in his possession that was illegal,” and described another officer’s comment later that night that he didn’t like “what the Captain is making us do.” The officer told Hall that he does it “the best I can and still sleep at night,” but that he really hated what the officer earlier that night “did with that kid.”
Another New Mexico officer, Nathan Lucero, said the Baton Rouge officer he patrolled with told him that the police had been going into black neighborhoods and “beating them down” since the hurricane. The officers that Lucero patrolled would stop black citizens without probable cause and illegally search them in a way that would “pretty much destroy the vehicle” before telling the person to “get the hell out of here.”
The complaints of Hall and Lucero are two among many in the document posted by The Advocate. In his letter to Baton Rouge police, Major Lopez said he pulled New Mexico’s state troopers from the assignment after debriefing them on the second day.
In an article in The Advocate about police actions in Baton Rouge following Hurricane Katrina, described in the documents, Baton Rouge police officers both refute and acknowledge the allegations.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff denied giving an order to run evacuees out of town and suggested the allegations were made up because the out of town troopers wanted to be in New Orleans instead of Baton Rouge:
“Asked why law enforcement officers from other states would lie about what they saw Baton Rouge police doing, LeDuff said he suspects the troopers wanted to be where the action was.
“’Everybody who came here wanted to be in New Orleans where all of this was going on, to rescue, to stop the looting, to stop the people from shooting at helicopters,’ he said. ‘I don’t think people wanted to come to Baton Rouge. We weren’t the story.’”
But East Baton Rouge mayor-president Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden acknowledged wanting the police to be aggressive:
“’I was not going to let Baton Rouge be overrun by some people from New Orleans who were hell-bent on committing crimes,’ he said in an interview last week.
“He said his message to those ‘thugs who are robbing, raping and looting in New Orleans’ was that he would provide them shelter, but ‘it will not be at the Red Cross — it’s going to be in jail.’
“’If there’s a blame to be placed on aggressive enforcement, blame it on me,’ he added.”
In January 2006, after an internal investigation, one officer was suspended without pay for three days, one was reprimanded and three others were sent to counseling by supervisors. One officer cleared of excessive force claims was fired later for a similar 2008 incident, The Advocate reported.