Baton Rouge police reckon with mounting allegations of misconduct and abuse

Lawsuits include claims of police abuse at a warehouse called the "Brave Cave."

September 29, 2023, 8:07 AM

Recent lawsuits filed against the Baton Rouge Police Department have put a spotlight on a long string of misconduct and abuse claims against the department's officers, including at a police warehouse referred to as the "Brave Cave."

The FBI New Orleans Field Office, alongside the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Louisiana, announced last week they were opening a federal investigation into the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) amid allegations that members of the police force may have abused their authority.

The announcement came days after a series of lawsuits had been filed against BRPD officers for alleged civil rights violations, including at the hands of BRPD's Troy Lawrence Jr., a 26-year-old officer and the son of Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr. who, despite his short tenure with the force, is alleged in lawsuits as having an "extensive record of injuring members of the public."

The lawsuits also put a spotlight on the BRPD's Street Crimes Unit – known as BRAVE, an acronym for Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination -- and their alleged use of a former narcotics unit facility that lawsuits have claimed became a warehouse for violent interrogations, known to BRPD officers as the Brave Cave. Lawsuits filed against the department allege beatings and strip searches of suspects at this facility, with police officers allegedly turning off their body cameras in many of these instances.

On Wednesday, the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council held a meeting focused on allegations surrounding the so-called Brave Cave, just a few weeks after Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome ordered the facility be shut down and the Street Crimes Unit disbanded.

In this image from Baton Rouge Police Department body camera video, officers interact with Jeremy Lee inside a warehouse in Baton Rouge, on Jan. 9, 2023.
Baton Rouge Police Department via AP

"Who is going to tell the people -- which one of us is going to tell them -- who is going to stand up right now with me and tell them that this issue came before us months ago?" Council member Jennifer Racca said during the meeting. "And we ask for something to be done yet here we sit tonight."

She added, "Anybody else gonna stand with me? 'cause I know y'all were in the room with me." Most of her 11 fellow council members stood up. It is not clear what issue Racca was referring to that came up months ago. Racca did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Baton Rouge Police Department Chief Murphy Paul, who was at the meeting, allegedly went straight to the FBI upon learning about the allegations surrounding the warehouse, ABC News previously reported.

"I've been quiet, but I'm not going to be quiet no more," Chief Paul said during the meeting.

Paul said officers had been terminated and others resigned as part of the department's investigation.

"Fourteen police officers were terminated," he said while addressing the council. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight resigned under investigation."

In response to Chief Paul's statement, Racca said: "If this is what de-escalation looks like the police chief needs to be immediately removed."

The police department did not immediately respond to ABC News' requests for comment.

In a previous statement to ABC News, the Baton Rouge Police Department said they are "committed to addressing these troubling accusations and have initiated administrative and criminal investigations."

On Thursday, four Baton Rouge police officers connected to the force's Street Crimes Unit were arrested by state authorities, according to a source familiar with the investigation. The arrest warrants are not related to the Brave Cave case, according to the source, but for a prior incident.

'Extensive record' of misconduct alleged in lawsuit

Officer Troy Lawrence Jr. joined the Baton Rouge Police Department in 2019, and despite his short tenure, "his dangerous temper has led to numerous Internal Affairs investigations," according to one of the lawsuits recently filed against Lawrence Jr.

The first publicly known incident involving Lawrence Jr. happened less than five months after he was sworn into the police force, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that on New Year's Day 2020, Lawrence Jr., along with another BRPD officer, stopped the car of Clarence Green and his younger brother, then 16-years-old. Lawrence Jr. and the other officer ordered the Green brothers to step out of the car and handcuffed them. Body camera footage of the incident, reviewed by ABC News, allegedly shows that Clarence Green and his brother were strip-searched.

The lawsuit, in which Lawrence Jr. was identified as John Doe 1, also alleges he and the other officer then proceeded to search the home of their mother without a warrant and with guns drawn. The case later settled for $35,000 in May 2021.

Less than a year later, another incident allegedly captured on camera seemed to show Lawrence Jr. aggressively detaining a woman after he reported to the scene of a traffic accident. According to a lawsuit filed by the woman, Shermaine Reed, Lawrence Jr. allegedly told her that "next time, I won't be so nice," before releasing her.

The lawsuit settled for $55,000 after BRPD declined a settlement offer of $40,000 and an apology, Thomas Frampton, the lawyer for Reed, told ABC News. In both settlements, the city denied any wrongdoing. There are currently three active lawsuits against Lawrence Jr.

One recent lawsuit, filed by plaintiff Jeremy Lee, alleges Lawrence Jr. and other BRPD officers took him to the Brave Cave on Jan. 9, and beat him, turning off their body cameras. Medical records provided by Lee's lawyers to ABC News show that he was treated for a broken rib and pain on his chest and face before being taken to a local jail.

Just two weeks after Lee's complaint was filed, Ternell Brown, a 47-year-old grandmother, filed a different lawsuit against Lawrence Jr. and two other BRPD officers, including an unnamed female officer, alleging she was held for over two hours at the facility on June 10.

Baton Rouge Police Department Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence, Sr.
Baton Rouge Police Department

While she was detained, Brown's lawsuit claims the officers stripped her and did a body cavity search on her, allegedly holding a flashlight to her private parts as they did so. She was let go without charge, the lawsuit says.

According to one of the lawsuits against Lawrence Jr., another officer, Sgt. Gunter, later told the department's internal affairs that he believed Lawrence Jr. was "dangerous and that he did not want to work in his presence," adding that he did not know what Lawrence Jr. "was capable of" and that he felt the officer had a lot of anger against Sgt. Gunter. The investigation resulted in Lawrence Jr. being suspended.

Sgt. Gunter declined to comment for this story.

Lawrence Jr. resigned from the Baton Rouge Police Department on Aug. 29, after news of the impending lawsuit from Jeremy Lee was first reported by local news. The same day, Mayor-President Broome ordered the Brave Cave to be shut down.

On Sept. 21, ABC affiliate WBRZ reported that Lawrence Jr. had been arrested on a misdemeanor battery charged related to an Aug. 8 incident in which body camera footage allegedly showed a handcuffed suspect in the rear seat of his patrol car being "dry stunned" by a department issued taser without giving the subject an opportunity to comply with verbal commands. Dry stun refers to the use of a taser on a person to inflict pain without incapacitating the person.

The lawsuit alleges that "no BRPD employee with Troy Lawrence Jr.'s seniority has been suspended by BRPD more times for misconduct (without being terminated) than Troy Lawrence Jr."

On Wednesday, the Baton Rouge Police Department confirmed to ABC News that Deputy Chief Lawrence Sr. had been put on administrative leave as the investigation into allegations of misconduct in the department continues.

Troy Lawrence Jr. and Lawrence Sr. could not be reached by ABC News for comment.

The Brave Cave

The warehouse, officially known as the Narcotics Processing Facility, was originally used by the department's Narcotics Unit until September 2021, when the unit was disbanded following allegations of corruption that first came to light a year prior, WBRZ reported.

Following the disintegration of the Narcotics Unit, about 20 law enforcement officers belonging to the Street Crimes Unit and Intelligence took over the facility, WBRZ reported.

According to the recent lawsuits, the facility was then used by the unit as a "torture warehouse." It is in that facility that Lee alleges to have been beaten by police and Brown claims to have been strip searched.

According to the respective lawsuits, in these instances BRPD Officers turned off their body cameras.

In a statement Wednesday, Broome said: "We are taking this matter seriously and are committed to truth, justice and the safety of the Baton Rouge community."

"The "BRAVE Cave" allegations, or any inhuman act, is not the Baton Rouge any of us want, so there will be accountability and there will continue to be change. We are better than this, and we must not allow ourselves to be defined by this moment in time," the statement continued. "Red Stick will continue to rise in the face of these allegations because there will be consequences for those who have done wrong. It is the right and only thing to do."

The FBI has urged the public to come forward with any information regarding the case.