The Baton Rouge Police Department is asking a federal judge to dismiss WBRZ-TV reporter Brett Buffington’s lawsuit against the department and one of its officers who arrested him last May.
Buffington sued BRPD and Officer Clifton Crouch in Baton Rouge federal court last month, claiming his arrest for allegedly interfering with Crouch and intimidating the officer violated his First Amendment rights.
Buffington, who was not prosecuted on the misdemeanor and felony counts on which he was booked, also alleges he was subjected to an unreasonable seizure, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and defamation.
BRPD counters in a court-filed answer to the suit that Buffington has put forth “insufficient factual allegations” to try to show the department and Crouch violated any of the reporter’s civil rights under the U.S. Constitution or applicable federal law.
Buffington “received all the process that was due under the Constitution of the United States,” First Assistant Parish Attorney Tedrick Knightshead and Assistant Parish Attorney Deelee S. Morris argue in the Police Department’s answer to the lawsuit. The answer was filed earlier this month.
Buffington states in the suit that he and WBRZ executive producer Trey Schmaltz were driving through the Garden District toward Schmaltz’s home in the early morning hours of May 29 when they observed a large police presence where Oleander Street intersects with Eugene Street. They parked at Schmaltz’s home and walked back to the intersection, which was not barricaded by police or roped off with crime scene tape, the suit says.
Buffington claims he had a constitutionally protected right to record the officers performing their duties in a public space.
Buffington claims he and Schmaltz obeyed Crouch’s request to move away from the scene after they identified themselves as WBRZ reporters. After crossing the street, Buffington took a picture of the scene with his iPhone, prompting the officer to handcuff Schmaltz and put him into his police car, the suit alleges. Buffington took a second photo to document Crouch’s actions, and the officer grabbed the back of the reporter’s shirt and pushed him into the police vehicle.
Buffington took a third picture of the street sign to record the location, and Crouch took the phone and handcuffed the reporter, the suit claims.
Crouch prepared a misdemeanor summons for both reporters, took off their handcuffs and told them they could leave. Buffington contends he calmly told the officer, “I hope you enjoy the rest of your career,” and that is when Crouch told Buffington, “You just talked yourself into a felony,” according to the suit.
The officer cuffed Buffington and put him back into the police car.
BRPD argues in its response to the suit that the department and Crouch “did not use any force which was unnecessary or excessive under the circumstances or which rises to the level of a constitutional violation.”
Any force used against Buffington would have been utilized to bring him “under control” in order to protect the life and safety of Buffington and all others present “and to maintain the security of the situation,” Knightshead and Morris state.
Buffington also claims he was strip-searched and forced to watch a prison rape video. In answering the suit, the Police Department’s attorneys said those allegations are denied “for lack of sufficient information to justify a reasonable belief therein.”
Buffington’s lawyers, Amy Newsom and Franz Borghardt, have said in the suit that his ability to perform his investigative reporter duties has been seriously hindered.
WBRZ is not a party to the suit.