Jefferson Parish law enforcement officials said Wednesday that they do not suspect wrongdoing on the part of an undercover sheriff’s deputy filmed last week punching a high school student in the face repeatedly as he attempted to detain the drunken teenager after a parade.
A widely circulating cellphone video, viewed tens of thousands of times online, raised questions about the degree of force used by the deputy, Detective Nicholas Breaux, who delivered four right hooks to the teen’s face as he lay on the ground, allegedly resisting arrest. A booking photo of the teen, 17-year-old Brady Becker, a student-athlete at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, showed two black eyes and other injuries to his face in the fracas.
The Sheriff’s Office, which accused Becker of instigating the incident by pushing Breaux, has not investigated the deputy’s actions because officials “don’t suspect any wrongdoing,” said Col. John Fortunato, a spokesman for the agency. Fortunato said the Sheriff’s Office will only open an inquiry after Becker files a formal complaint, a move that Becker’s attorney said was imminent.
The attorney, David Belfield, said as many as a dozen or more witnesses — some of whom also filmed the incident — have portrayed Breaux as the aggressor, adding the deputy was “1,000 percent wrong” in his handling of the situation, which happened about 10 p.m. Friday. He claimed Breaux failed to identify himself as a law enforcement officer until “after he had beaten the crap out of Brady.”
Belfield said Becker and his friends weren’t doing anything wrong or breaking any laws, adding, “What right did Nick Breaux have to put his hands on Brady?”
Sheriff Newell Normand refused to comment on the video, a 37-second clip uploaded to YouTube over the weekend that had been viewed more than 41,000 times by Wednesday evening. The footage, which captured only a snippet of the arrest, begins with Becker on his back in the parking garage of the Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie, locked in a struggle with Breaux.
The deputy, who along with his partner had been patrolling in plain clothes, is shown crouching over the teen, his left hand gripping the teen’s throat as he seeks to bring him into submission. As Becker grasps the deputy’s collar, Breaux, a seven-year veteran of the force, punches him on the left side of his face, eliciting shrieks from other bystanders who had accompanied Becker to a parade Friday night.
“The fight for justice is going to be a long, tough road, but I won’t stop until justice is served for these kids,” Becker’s mother wrote in a Facebook post. “They deserve it.”
Becker, who allegedly told authorities he had consumed “a half bottle of Crown,” was booked on four counts: possession of alcohol by a minor, resisting an officer, battery of a police officer and inciting a riot.
Fortunato said he received a laceration over his eye during the incident that required treatment at a local hospital. Belfield said the teen had received “three or four stitches” on his brow, over his eye.
A full incident report on Becker’s arrest had not been finalized Wednesday. But an abbreviated account, a report known as an “arrest register,” said Becker had been among a “large group of individuals” that plainclothes detectives encountered in the mall’s parking garage. Becker began screaming “f--- the cops” even before the detectives identified themselves as law enforcement officers, the report said.
Becker pushed Breaux, the report said, “at which time Det. Breaux escorted (Becker) to the ground into a prone position for handcuffing.” The report said Becker “refused orders to stop and was striking Det. Breaux.”
Sheriff’s Office protocol warns that “unnecessary force will not be tolerated” and says deputies “may only use enough force to overcome the amount of resistance or aggression met.”
“An officer may, in extreme situations, be forced to employ methods or weapons not commonly accepted for law enforcement,” the policy says. “The guiding factor should be whether the weapon or technique was reasonable under the circumstances.”
Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, noted that the cellphone video does not explain why deputies engaged Becker in the first place. But, she added, “Based on what I saw, it certainly seems like excessive force, to me, to just beat the kid in the face.”
“If they needed to arrest him, they could have arrested him,” she said. “If they needed to subdue him, they could have pepper-sprayed him.”
The lack of an internal investigation, Esman said, seemed like “an inappropriate response.”
“I suspect that the training for Jefferson Parish officers does not include tackling an unarmed suspect to the ground and beating him around the face,” she added. “If that is how they train their officers, they have a problem.”
Greg Meyer, a retired Los Angeles Police Department captain who is a nationally recognized use of force expert, noted that the teen shown in the video “was clearly using both hands to reach up and grab the officer at the neck and shoulder area.”
The key issue, he said, “will be figuring out whether the officer was reacting to the subject’s actions, or the subject was reacting to the officer’s actions.”
“The officer is entitled to overcome the resistance and the attack,” said Meyer, who reviewed the video Wednesday at the request of The New Orleans Advocate. “On the other hand, the subject will likely claim that he reached up at the officer in self-defense to overcome what the subject believed was the officer’s excessive force. Whether the officer grabbing the subject’s neck and punching his head are sanctioned by the agency’s policy and training are questions that will have to be addressed in the investigation.”
At St. Charles Catholic, Becker has played wide receiver for the Comets, a perennial contender. In October, he caught a game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass to beat De La Salle 28-21. The Comets advanced to the Division II select semi-finals and were a win away from advancing to Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic, which was played in the Superdome.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter @JimMustian