A Baton Rouge police sergeant is on administrative leave as the department investigates a video that shows an officer punching a 16-year-old boy in the head while other lawmen press down on the teenager in an attempt to handcuff him at Baton Rouge’s Earth Day celebration Sunday.
Sgt. Todd Bourgoyne, an officer with the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Traffic Division who’s served with the department for 22 years, is on paid leave during the internal investigation into the incident, said Sgt. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman.
Coppola declined to say what role Bourgoyne played in the incident or whether he’s depicted in the video, which was first published Monday by The Rouge Collection.
A Baton Rouge police report released in response to a request for information about the case says officers working on a security detail for the Earth Day event were trying to “break up many large fights in the area” when they were “confronted by a combative male” at 100 River Road about 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
The report, which does not provide further details of the encounter and does not describe any action against an officer, has the teenager’s name blacked out, but the boy’s mother identified him Monday as Ja’Colby Davis.
An attorney for Davis’ family said Tuesday he can say “with 100 percent certainty” that Davis wasn’t involved in the fights and denied his client attacked or resisted officers.
“The video shows what the video shows: a teen on the ground, not acting in an aggressive manner, getting beat up by police,” said the attorney, Shannon Battiste.
The clip, apparently captured on a cellphone by a bystander, does not depict the moments before the incident.
“Even if we’re going to entertain what the officer said is true — let’s say hypothetically he (Davis) was being aggressive with the officer — once he’s on the ground, why’s he still being hit? He’s moving his hands to protect his head,” Battiste said. “The video doesn’t show him being aggressive. The video shows officers being aggressive toward him.”
Attempts to reach Bourgoyne at phone numbers associated with him were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Sgt. Chris Stewart, president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, disputed Battiste’s description of the video, saying he didn’t see anything in the footage that might constitute a significant policy violation.
“If it’s a violent situation, the officers are trying to stop the resistance immediately and take the person into custody, and I think that’s what happened,” Stewart said. “The necessary force was used to stop the resistance.”
“Our officer safety is paramount,” added Stewart, who said even proper law enforcement actions “may not be pleasant to watch.”
“We’re going to do what we need to do to take someone into custody the safest way we can do it,” he said.
Stewart, who was not present at the incident, also disputed Battiste’s claim the teenager was a bystander to the incident.
“I’m quite sure he was doing something. He wasn’t just standing around and we arrested him,” Stewart said. The union is representing Bourgoyne during the internal investigation.
The department’s policy on use of force instructs that “employees shall never employ unnecessary force or violence.”
“Employees may use reasonable force to effect a legal arrest or detention and also to overcome any resistance or threatened resistance of the person being legally arrested or detained,” the policy states.
Coppola, who on Monday said there was “some type of act of violence toward the officer prior to what was seen in the video,” declined to respond to Battiste’s assertions Tuesday, citing the ongoing internal investigation.
Davis was 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. He bonded out of jail Monday, Battiste said. A court date for Davis in juvenile court is set in May.
The video shows a person, identified as Davis by his mother, Danielle Todd, being held facedown on the grass near the River Center by two uniformed officers. Davis, who appears to have his arms pinned behind his back by the officers, is struck in the head by a third officer several times.
Davis appears to draw his right arm toward his head as other lawmen surround him. One officer wrestles Davis’ arm behind his back while another approaches with what Coppola said appears to be a drawn Taser.
None of the officers were wearing body cameras. Some officers in the department wear the cameras as part of a pilot program confined to certain areas, though the agency says it intends to have all officers wear body cameras in the future.
The Advocate has filed a public records request for records of previous complaints and internal affairs investigations involving Bourgoyne but was not immediately provided the documents Tuesday.
Bourgoyne has faced significant discipline in a well-publicized incident before.
The officer was suspended for 87 days in early 2000 after admitting he kissed, hugged and sexually touched a woman in her apartment the same night she’d called police to report a domestic dispute with her boyfriend, according to contemporaneous reports in The Advocate.
Bourgoyne initially denied the woman’s allegations to both internal affairs investigators and the police chief before admitting to the complaint and accepting the punishment, which also included a stipulation that Bourgoyne undergo an evaluation to see if he should get treatment.
While testifying at a later unrelated civil service hearing for another officer, then-Police Chief Greg Phares said Bourgoyne’s actions may have constituted sexual battery and that, in retrospect, “I would probably take different and more severe action.” An editorial by The Advocate at the time criticized the suspension and called for Bourgoyne’s dismissal.
Phares declined to comment further Tuesday, saying he couldn’t recall the case well enough to speak to it.