FBI Opens Investigation Into Baton Rouge Police Over Abuse Allegations

FBI Opens Investigation Into Baton Rouge Police Over Abuse Allegations
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)

The FBI said on Sept. 22 it has opened a civil rights investigation into allegations that the police department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, abused and tortured drug suspects.

The announcement comes as a second federal lawsuit was filed against the department, alleging officers from a street crime unit assaulted drug suspects they detained at an unmarked warehouse known as the “Brave Cave.”

FBI officials confirmed experienced prosecutors and agents are “reviewing allegations that members of the department may have abused their authority.”

The single-story warehouse once used by the street crime unit called BRAVE, short for Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, has been portrayed as a “black site” or torture chamber in two recent federal court lawsuits.

The latest lawsuit filed last week by Ternell Brown, a grandmother, alleges that police officers conducted an unlawful strip-search on her for “contraband” at the “Brave Cave” in June. She was released without charges when officers concluded the prescription drugs in her possession were legal.

Her attorneys wrote in the lawsuit that they are still learning “the full horror of what the street crimes unit did there. ... Even those who were not beaten at the torture warehouse, we now know, were still sexually humiliated.”

Ms. Brown’s lawsuit was filed a month after another Baton Rouge resident, Jeremy Lee, filed a lawsuit alleging that in January he was taken to the warehouse and beaten so severely he ended up hospitalized with broken bones and other injuries.

Inside the warehouse, officers punched and kicked him while he screamed for help, the lawsuit alleges. After he was violently interrogated and arrested, the only criminal charge prosecutors pursued against Mr. Lee was resisting arrest.

The street crime unit was disbanded after Mr. Lee’s complaint was filed last month. Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome has also ordered the warehouse closed.

“The severity of these allegations deeply concerns me, especially given the potential impact on the trust our community places in us,” Ms. Broome said.

An officer at the center of the allegations, Troy Lawrence Jr.—the son of a current deputy chief—resigned following the allegations. According to a lawsuit filed last month, he repeatedly turned off and muted his body camera during his interactions with Mr. Lee.

Mr. Lawrence Jr. was charged on Sept. 21 with battery for a separate incident on Aug. 8. Investigators found bodyworn camera video which showed him using using a stun gun on a handcuffed male subject before he could comply with verbal orders, according to the Baton Rouge Police Department.

Thomas Frampton, an attorney representing both Mr. Lee and Ms. Brown, said his team has heard from dozens more people alleging abuse inside the warehouse and they plan to file additional lawsuits.

“This kind of misconduct is so entrenched that people had little reason to expect any kind of positive change,” he said, praising the FBI’s decision to launch an investigation.

In a statement to ABC News, the Baton Rouge Police Department said it is “committed to addressing these troubling accusations and have initiated administrative and criminal investigations. Chief [Murphy J.] Paul met with FBI officials and requested their assistance to ensure an independent review of these complaints. The Narcotics Processing Facility has been permanently closed and the Street Crimes Unit has been disbanded and reassigned.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.