The number the city of Baton Rouge put on a Black teen’s dignity was $35,000, the amount reached in a settlement after city police officers strip searched a 16-year-old boy and his older brother in broad daylight during a traffic stop investigated by local news station WAFB. The actual officers accused of violating the brothers’ rights, however, have yet to be held accountable for their actions. The settlement was reached in a federal civil suit, and the case was dismissed last week after body-camera footage showed police pulling up the teen’s shirt, taking his underwear down, and grabbing his genitals and doing the same to his 23-year-old brother Clarence Green.
“In the course of about 90 minutes, these officers commit at least a half-dozen criminal offenses themselves,” Green’s family attorney Thomas Frampton told WAFB. Still, it was Green who sat in jail for five months before prosecutors dropped charges against him, claiming vaguely that they had “reevaluated the evidence,” The Advocate reported. When the charges against Green were dropped, Chief District Judge Brian Jackson said in an order the newspaper obtained that the arrest and prosecution were “emblematic of precisely the type of ‘foul’ blows universally condemned by our jurisprudence.” The brothers were initially stopped on Jan. 1, 2020, when the SUV they were riding in used the wrong turn signal.
Sgt. Ken Camallo, one of the cops involved in the humiliating search, called it “an investigatory stop … based on suspicious driving in a high crime area,” according to the incident report The Advocate obtained. The sergeant also said he was looking for a shoplifter when he saw the SUV Green was in at a “known drug house.”
Warning: This video may be triggering for some viewers.
When the officers did eventually take the brothers to their mother’s home and no one answered the door, muted body-camera footage The Advocate obtained showed officers walking into the residence anyway, Camallo with his gun drawn. He looked into the woman’s closets, and when she eventually appeared she didn’t consent to a search until Camallo pressured her. In all, officers found a loaded gun in Green’s pants, boxes of ammunition in the SUV, and a rifle and shotgun in a room in his mother’s home, The Advocate reported.
Video showed officers trying to convince the mother of also allowing a DNA swab of the teen, WAFB reported. When Green told his mother to call a lawyer, one of the officers can be seen threatening that if he didn’t “shut the f–k up” he was going to “f–k” him up. “I’m talking to my mama,” Green countered. The officer replied: “No, you’re causing a disturbance. You think I’m playing with you? I will f—k you up.”
None of the officers involved have been disciplined, and Camallo was not placed on leave after the incident. Jackson said in his order that officers had shown “serious and wanton disregard” for Green’s rights, “first by initiating a traffic stop on the thinnest pretext, and then by haphazardly invading defendant’s home (weapons drawn) to conduct an unjustified, warrantless search.”
Green named Camallo and the city of Baton Rouge in his lawsuit, and the city council approved the amount of the settlement without discussion at a meeting April 28, The Advocate reported.
Police officials claim to still be investigating the incident. Sgt. L’Jean McKneely, Jr., a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD), told WAFB the department is looking into its search policy. “We will continue to do pat-downs but the extent of further searching is under review,” McKneely said. East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome also called for individual officers to “be held accountable” in a statement on Thursday. “The very disturbing footage of an encounter between BRPD and citizens of our community was released and has justifiably raised the eyebrows of many in our community,” she said in the statement. “I stand by the federal judicial ruling in this case and the explicit and detailed judgment that was cast concerning the officers involved and their actions. While the involved individuals have received a civil remedy in this matter, the officers involved must be held accountable.”
State Rep. Ted James told WAFB the difficulty with holding individual officers responsible legally for their actions is that the law, specifically a provision dubbed qualified immunity, protects them. The doctrine frees individual government officials and police officers from guilt in lawsuits unless they have violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right.
Ending the protection is a key feature of the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would also ban no-knock warrants, chokeholds, and racial and religious profiling as well as establish a national database to monitor police misconduct. It’s named in honor of a Black father who was murdered when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. Although the House passed the anti-profiling legislation in March, it has failed to advance to the Senate, with Republicans refusing to allow police officers to truly be held accountable for their actions.
James supported a state bill sponsored by Rep. Edmond Jordan to remove qualified immunity for officers, a move that would hold them financially responsible in lawsuits instead of taxpayers. “Officers escape liability and what happens is we, the community, continues to have to pay those lawsuits,” James said. “And without consequences, it’s just like my little girl. If I don’t establish some type of consequences, she’s not going to correct that behavior and right now, we have a culture in our state, in our city, and across the country where largely officers are escaping any type of responsibility.”
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