Public safety officials, political leaders and some pastors tried to present a unified front Friday about how they are working together after a video surfaced online from Earth Day that showed a Baton Rouge police officer striking a 16-year-old boy in the head as other officers tried to handcuff him.
The video has resulted in a police officer being placed on leave while the Baton Rouge Police Department investigates the incident. The boy was also arrested and booked into the East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Detention Center on counts of battery on a police officer and resisting a police officer with violence or force.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie said at a news conference Friday that he could not comment about his opinion of the video, nor could he give an update into the ongoing investigation of the police officer, Sgt. Todd Bourgoyne. District Attorney Hillar Moore said he could not comment on the status of the prosecution of the boy, whose mother has identified him as Ja’Colby Davis, because it is a confidential matter in juvenile court.
The boy’s attorney, Shannon Battiste, said later on Friday that Davis has had to start meeting with a mental health professional to deal with the stress the incident has caused. Battiste said he has received no information that the case will be dropped and that he’s prepared to go to court in May.
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Several of those assembled at the news conference used the phrase “due process” in emphasizing that they want to ensure a fair investigation takes place. Pastors said they were flooded with phone calls in the aftermath of the video becoming a news story after Baton Rouge’s Earth Day downtown festivities on April 17.
Dabadie and Moore said that in recent years there has been a troubling pattern of violent behavior, fights and crimes happening at the city’s Earth Day celebration.
“We don’t know why that day is particular or why they picked that day for this, but it has happened in the past, we have dealt with it each year and we continue to deal with it,” Dabadie said. “But it’s what’s been happening, and we’re trying to solve it, we’re trying to fix it. We’ve been working with the organizers this year and our security increased this year, it just didn’t seem like it was enough.”
Moore said it appears that social media has played a role in inciting Earth Day violence and that the fighting was planned.
He said his office is monitoring at least one account that seems to have encouraged young people to fight and post videos online of their fighting. He asked people to call CrimeStoppers if they know the identities of people using social media to provoke the violence.
“It’s really troubling for us that you have people that are on the outside, probably adults, that are encouraging young kids who maybe are at risk to come down to an event and encourage them to fight and then post their videos,” Moore said.
The group of black pastors at the news conference said they have tried to calm concerns in their communities about how the investigation into the video of the officer striking the teen is being handled, and they want to make it known that they are working with law enforcement. Davis is black, while the officer put on leave is white.
Rev. Gerard Robinson, Sr. of McKowen Missionary Baptist Church said, though, that the actions in the video should not be the “face of the community” in Baton Rouge.
“We were assured that due process is going to be given to everyone, including the youth as well as the police officer,” said Bishop Raymond Johnson of the Living Faith Christian Center.
Mayor-President Kip Holden spoke of trying to take steps to avoid Baton Rouge becoming a “powder keg city” and said the news conference was not meant to be “us versus them.” Moore said it’s important that the public knows law enforcement and the faith-based community are working together to try to prevent future violent events.
They also highlighted the need for youth and mentorship programs for teenagers in Baton Rouge to avoid them finding trouble.
“We’re not rushing to indict that young man, nor are we rushing to indict the officer,” said State Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.
Rev. Reginald Pitcher said, though, that the initial attitude from the Baton Rouge Police Department about the video disturbed him. After the video was first published by The Rouge Collection website and began being widely circulated, the Advocate cited Sgt. Don Coppola, a police spokesman, as saying the teen must have attacked an officer prior to the incident that was filmed. Davis was booked with counts involving violence against officers.
A police report later released said officers working a security detail were trying to break up fights when they were “confronted by a combative male” at 100 River Road at about 6:30 p.m.
Davis was arrested, booked and bonded out of the juvenile center. Battiste, who has said his client wasn’t involved in fights and didn’t attack an officer, said Davis has struggled to handle the comments from those who are critical of his story.
“He doesn’t want anyone thinking he’s a criminal, he’s a troublemaker, and that’s a lot for a kid,” Battiste said.
Pitcher said the police’s initial attitude should not have been that the boy did something wrong. He said he has since met with public safety leaders and had some of his worries addressed, but that he still feels an undercurrent of discontent in his community.
Pitcher spoke after the news conference. He said he was originally supposed to be part of it, but said Holden kicked him out because Pitcher earlier this week spoke in favor of the Metro Council overriding one of the mayor’s vetoes. At the Metro Council meeting, Pitcher said Holden was a friend of his, but also described the mayor’s temperament as “stubborn,” “bullheaded” and “vindictive.”
After the news conference, Holden said he would not address Pitcher’s comments and that he did not want to be in the middle of a “feud that someone else is trying start.”
As for Davis’ case, Pitcher said the outcome will determine how the community reacts in the end.
“If the young man is charged and demonized and arrested, and nothing happens to the police officer, we have a whole different ballgame,” Pitcher said.
Dabadie will make the final call about disciplining Bourgoyne after the 60-day investigation by the department’s internal affairs office.
The video shows other officers holding down Davis as they attempt to handcuff his arms behind his back, and BRPD officials have said they cannot answer what role Bourgoyne played in the incident or video.
This is not the first time Bourgoyne has been in the public eye or faced discipline.
He was suspended for 87 days in early 2000 after admitting he kissed, hugged and sexually touched a woman on the night she called the police to report a domestic dispute with her boyfriend, according to past stories in The Advocate. He initially denied the woman’s allegations to internal affairs and the police chief before eventually accepting the punishment.