Darnell Randle’s story about being stomped on, punched and beaten bloody by a pair of St. John the Baptist Parish sheriff’s deputies while he was handcuffed did not stand up with a federal court jury Tuesday.
The allegations brought controversy to Sheriff Mike Tregre’s office earlier this year and produced conflicting stories from former deputies about how Randle ended up bloodied and in the hospital after a search for drugs and guns at a house in Edgard on Feb. 7, 2014.
But the jury rejected Randle’s assertion that former St. John narcotics deputies Hardy Schexnayder and Travis Thomas violated his civil rights during the incident, in which Randle allegedly stuffed a bag of cocaine in his mouth.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk earlier this month dismissed Tregre, as well as several other deputies who assisted in the search, from Randle’s lawsuit, leaving only Schexnayder and Thomas as defendants during a two-day trial.
“Travis was the one that kept punching me in the face, and Hardy kicked me and stomped me in my mouth,” Randle told officials at the Sheriff’s Office during an internal investigation, repeating those allegations on the stand this week.
The incident ignited a storm of controversy within the Sheriff’s Office after the two narcotics deputies and a fellow detective, Justin Bordelon, turned on one another.
Schexnayder and Thomas accused Bordelon of repeatedly striking Randle. Bordelon admitted putting Randle in a “sleeper hold” and using a “Stinger” flashlight to pry drugs out of his mouth, but he denied punching the suspect.
An internal Sheriff’s Office report accused Schexnayder and Thomas of pinning false blame on Bordelon out of jealousy over his stellar arrest statistics. The investigator, Capt. C.J. Destor, endorsed Randle’s account and, after subjecting the deputies to lie-detector tests, recommended firing Schexnayder and Thomas.
Tregre didn’t heed that advice, but he broke up the narcotics unit more than a year later. The lag time drew sharp criticism from Metropolitan Crime Commission Vice President Anthony Radosti, who accused Tregre of dropping the ball and compromising scores of pending drug prosecutions in cases touched by the three detectives.
Randle’s attorney, Vercell Fiffie, told the jury Tuesday the deputies violated department policy by beating his client while he was handcuffed.
“If they immediately walked into a room, apprehended Mr. Randle, handcuffed him, where does the blood come from? It had to come from somewhere,” Fiffie argued.
Several deputies reported seeing blood in the room. Bordelon claimed he saw blood in the room when he entered the home behind Schexnayder and Thomas.
Africk earlier ruled that Bordelon’s use of force “was not unreasonable given the circumstances. Sheriff’s Office personnel had reason to suspect that plaintiff was concealing drugs in his mouth. They were justified in taking action both to prevent the loss of evidence and to prevent plaintiff from injuring himself by accidentally ingesting the drugs.”
On Tuesday, Schexnayder claimed he never touched Randle until he escorted him to a waiting gurney.
“I didn’t touch him at all,” he testified.
Thomas acknowledged easing Randle to the ground, then felling him with a leg sweep outside the apartment when Randle refused to follow orders.
Carl Butler, an attorney for Tregre’s office, said the deputies did nothing wrong.
“We’re here talking about two good men and two good police officers who showed up on Feb. 7 to do their job,” Butler told the jury. “All the evidence suggests they did their job successfully. They did what they were trained to do, which was to find illegal weapons and illegal drugs.”
Thomas’ attorney, Nghana Gauff Lewis, called it “the right verdict as to both of the gentlemen on trial.”
Despite the outcome, legal troubles over the incident haven’t ended for Tregre or his office.
Thomas, who quit the force in April after he was reassigned to jail security when the narcotics unit was broken up, has filed a state defamation lawsuit against the office over the accusatory internal report.
Schexnayder was demoted and now works security at the Edgard courthouse.
Bordelon resigned in May after he was suspended following an unrelated felony battery charge filed against him in Jefferson Parish.
The criminal case against Randle on drug, stolen gun and obstruction of justice charges remains pending.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.