PORT ALLEN — A woman claiming her teenage son was racially profiled and harassed by a Port Allen police officer threatened Wednesday to take legal action if the City Council does not initiate disciplinary action against the officer.
Nikisha Joseph told city leaders the officer, a white woman, unnecessarily pulled over her 16-year-old son, who is black, for a traffic stop on Feb. 6, illegally searched his vehicle and tried to prevent him from calling his parents from the scene.
“I went to Chief (Esdron) Brown as a concerned parent,” Joseph told the council Wednesday night. “I thought I could go to the chief, but I left that meeting with unanswered questions. That raised red flags for me.”
Brown, however, disputed the mother’s claims and defended the actions of his police officers, noting it was a black male police officer who made the initial traffic stop. The female officer showed up only to assist, he added.
Brown, who also is black, said the teen was wearing a seat belt across his lap but he was pulled over because the older model car he was driving didn’t have an across-the-chest strap.
The chief said the officers searched the juvenile’s car because they saw a bottle of cough syrup in the vehicle after the teen was pulled over.
The cough syrup contained dextromethorphan, a substance often mixed with other prescription medication and/or alcohol to make an illegal substance, Brown said.
“The search wasn’t illegal. The drugs were in plain view,” Brown said in an interview after the meeting. “Once you discover drugs, you can search the vehicle.”
Brown on Wednesday night could not provide The Advocate a copy of the police report from the incident. But the chief said he would furnish a copy on Thursday.
Joseph, who was once a city employee, chided the Police Department for not having body cameras, which she felt would back her story.
She also berated the police chief for not properly training his officers to deal with juveniles, and she accused the department of targeting the city’s majority-black neighborhoods, located on the east side of the railroad tracks along La. 1, for daily stakeouts and patrols.
“I don’t think taxpayers pay for officers to sit two and three hours at locations,” she said. “Was he stopped because of his race? Now my child becomes the stereotype and the child that has to be banished from other children because of a traffic stop that shouldn’t have occurred.”
Joseph also claimed the female officer has had numerous complaints filed against her for her behavior when dealing with the public.
“That’s a lie,” Brown responded after the meeting.
Brown pointed out that Joseph’s son was not arrested after his father showed up and took ownership of the cough syrup. The juvenile wasn’t ticketed either, but his father was arrested, the chief said.
“I’m 100 percent confident my officers did what they were supposed to,” Brown said. “When we’re conducting business, we don’t let people talk on their phones.”
As for his officers’ increased presence in certain neighborhoods, Brown said the council purchased laptops so officers can file police reports from the field.
“First, they complain they’re not seeing the police enough. Now, they see them more and they still complain,” Brown said. “You don’t have to worry. We’ve been policing our people.”
Brown did note that the matter has been turned over to the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office for further investigation.
Council members did not comment on the matter during the meeting, but Mayor Richard Lee told Joseph the city will take the matter under advisement.
“Because it’s still a recent complaint, allow the process to go forth,” Lee said, “(but) I’d like you to know we are in the process of trying to buy body cameras for police officers.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.