Lying in a pool of his own blood about two months ago with his two front teeth knocked out, Brett Percle recently recalled, he watched as police officers ransacked his friend’s Baton Rouge home.
The officers, members of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Special Response Team, were looking for marijuana and anything else that might be pertinent to an investigation into whether drugs were being dealt from the Lila Avenue home off GSRI Avenue between Gardere Lane and Nicholson Drive, according to police documents.
When the police showed up at the home, Percle, 22, was there visiting an old college roommate. He wanted to hang out and play some music at the house.
The fun didn’t last long. And the ensuing events are the subject of a federal lawsuit recently filed by Percle and his New Orleans attorney, Kearney S. Loughlin, against the Police Department and several of its officers. Percle claims the team serving the warrant used excessive force against him while also conducting unlawful searches of his body and vehicle.
The Police Department declined to comment, citing the pending litigation, except to defend the professionalism of the department’s Special Response Team.
“Any litigation accusations will be worked out in court,” said Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police spokesman.
About 2:30 p.m. on June 11, Percle and the other four people inside the Lila Avenue home heard a knock on the door. Before anyone had time to react, Percle said, a team of officers wearing black military-style outfits barged in with guns pointed at the occupants and ordered everyone to lie down on the floor.
“They were prepared for war,” Percle said in a recent interview. “Everyone had grenades. Everyone had a machine gun.”
Just inches away from a prone position, Percle felt a blow to the back of his neck, which caused his face to slam into the tile floor. Teeth went flying. Blood started flowing.
“I thought I was going to faint from the amount of blood I lost that day,” said Percle, who lives in New Orleans. “While I was on the ground in handcuffs, bleeding, one officer decided to play the drums,” which were among several instruments in the house, Percle said.
Percle estimated the search lasted 10 to 15 minutes. He requested an ambulance, but he didn’t see anyone call for one.
“They got a kick out of seeing me with no teeth,” he said.
Eventually, the officers walked Percle and the others out of the house one by one. A medic came to his aid, Percle said, pulling pieces of glass out of his arm, which got there during the chaotic handcuffing period.
Percle said he again asked for an ambulance. He remembers the medic telling him that because his injuries weren’t life-threatening, he didn’t need to go to a hospital.
“He said all I would need is ‘a dentist and some therapy,’ ” Percle said.
Officers ridiculed Percle, he said, calling him a jack-o’-lantern. On several occasions, Percle said, officers walked up to him and asked, “How did you lose your teeth?” One suggested his teeth must have been rotten before the beating, Percle said, while another told him he must have slipped and fallen.
Percle was never arrested or charged with any crime. In fact, he said he’s never been arrested.
But he was taken back inside the house and strip-searched in front of about a dozen officers, he said.
“It was embarrassing,” Percle said.
An officer also took the keys to Percle’s vehicle at one point, ransacking it as well, Percle said.
The search warrant gave police permission to search vehicles “associated with the use and distribution” of controlled dangerous substances. Percle’s car was parked across the street and at least one house over, he said.
Since his detainment at the Lila Avenue home, Percle hasn’t seen either of the two people police arrested. Police found about three ounces of marijuana and about $1,600 in cash inside the home that day, which they used as evidence to arrest the two men, one of whom lived at the Lila Avenue home, on possession with intent to distribute marijuana, arrest documents show.
Neither man has been formally charged in the matter.
Meanwhile, Percle has undergone two dental surgeries and is awaiting a third. He said he has spent thousands of dollars on medical expenses ranging from the surgeries to new teeth to therapy. He also scheduled appointments with a chiropractor and a neurologist to treat a sore neck and numbness in one of his hands since the detainment.
“I still have nightmares about the event,” Percle said. “Just trouble sleeping in general. But it seems to be getting better with therapy.”
Loughlin, Percle’s attorney, said one goal of the suit is to prevent what happened to his client from happening to anyone else.
“I think they were over the line in this case,” Loughlin said of the police’s actions.
The attorney said there is a trend to militarize America’s law enforcement agencies, adding, “there’s got to be a check on it at some point.”
Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter, @_BenWallace.