A New Orleans man who says his teeth were knocked out by a Baton Rouge officer and was illegally strip searched by another lawman during a raid in 2014 was turned away on Monday when he tried to document his complaints in person with the Baton Rouge Police Department.
It’s at least the second time the man, Brett Percle, has tried and failed to have the Baton Rouge Police Department investigate his complaints against officers. He also attempted last week to have his accusations documented by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office — the incident happened just outside city limits — but he was referred to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, where Percle says his claims are now pending.
Ruth Wisher, a spokeswoman for that agency, said she couldn’t confirm or deny if investigators in her office are working on the case.
Percle — who won a federal brutality trial against the Baton Rouge Police Department and the city last month and was awarded $25,000 by a jury — says he’s now tying up the loose ends to his case. He was only able to bring a civil suit, not a criminal allegation, of battery by an officer, he explained.
Now that a seven-person jury validated his claims, Percle said, “it’s even more important” that the department hold its officers accountable.
But the department, while acknowledging some mistakes brought to light by the trial, maintains Percle’s allegations about being stomped on are false.
“Mr. Percle has had his day in court. We are not going to consider his claim. Nevertheless, we consider Mr. Percle’s matter closed,” said department legal representative Kim Brooks on Tuesday.
The case stems from a raid on June, 11, 2014, at 1486 Lila Ave., where Percle, 24, says he was spending time with friends during the middle of the day. Baton Rouge police officers in tactical gear stormed into the house and ordered everyone inside onto the floor, according to testimony by multiple witnesses. While lying face-down on tile, Percle says Cpl. Robert Moruzzi “curb stomped” his head into the floor, which fully dislodged one of Percle’s teeth and shattered others. A jury agreed with those claims, also finding Detective Jason Acree authorized a strip search of Percle and the others, without a specific warrant to do so.
The raid netted a few ounces of marijuana and $1,635 in cash and resulted in two arrests, but no one was ultimately charged. Percle wasn’t arrested or accused of a crime.
After the incident, Percle says he made several phone calls to the department, but was never called back. He finally resorted to calling a lawyer, he said, which resulted in his federal case. The department has denied Percle’s claims about his contact with the department, saying an investigator called him back and spoke briefly to Percle, who in turn promised he would call again but never did.
It remains unclear how the department has evaluated whether Percle is telling the truth or not in his claims, since they’ve never completed an investigation into his allegations.
The onus was on Percle to follow up on his complaint, said Brooks, adding that his initial call triggered a 60-day countdown for any probe to be completed, citing laws known as the police officer’s bill of rights. Now that the 60-day period has elapsed, the case can’t be reopened, even by the police chief, she said.
The matter was never assigned a file number and no probe was ever completed, Brooks said. Percle’s call to the office “was, however, a complaint,” she said Tuesday.
Brooks later acknowledged there are no department rules that spell out what constitutes making a complaint.
The so-called 60-day rule says an internal investigation must be completed within 60 days “when a formal, written complaint is made.”
But in another wrinkle, department spokesman Lt. Jonathan Dunnam last month acknowledged outright that no internal affairs investigation of Percle’s claims was ever started . An accusation of Percle’s severity would have to be made in person, Dunnam said, a statement also testified to by Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. on the stand.
Results from a public records request for the department’s policy on investigating internal affairs complaints were not ready by 10 p.m. Friday.
Documents released Friday by the department show the core of what Brooks called an “office investigation” of Percle’s claims consist of two pages — a handwritten note dated June 12, 2014, with Percle’s phone number on it, and a typewritten page by Cpl. Orscini Beard II saying he called Percle later that day, but that Percle “was at his place of employment and would rather talk at a later date and time.”
In a field marked “Nature of Allegation,” the document says, “Unknown at this time.”
Copies of the incident report of the raid are the only other pages out of the internal affairs file pertaining to Percle’s 2014 call.
In court, Percle denied Beard’s allegations that he ever spoke to him and presented evidence of his cellphone records showing multiple calls to the department’s internal affairs office, which he says were never returned.
“We don’t believe Percle’s version of events,” Brooks said last month, after the trial ended.
The Baton Rouge Police Department does not generally allow individual officers to speak to the press.
After the trial last month, Dabadie acknowledged mistakes in how his officers ordered Percle and the others inside the house to undress and expose their genitals, saying narcotics detectives should write warrants that directly authorize strip searches. The trial spurred the department to review and revise its policy regarding strip searches. Brooks said no changes have yet been made.
Documents released by the department Friday also show Sgt. Don Young, of internal affairs, terminated Percle’s use-of-force complaint Monday at the advice of Brooks, who is cited as saying “any type of battery or assault complaint would be prescribed.”
The statute of limitations on a misdemeanor battery is two years, and if prosecuted as a felony, the window for prosecution is four years.
Percle says the episode, while upsetting, has inspired him to attend law school.
“If anything positive came out of this,” he said, “they have lit a fire underneath me to be successful, to be knowledgeable of the law and to protect other people in the same situation that I am in.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.