The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to pursue civil rights charges against a plainclothes Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office detective who repeatedly punched a high school student this year during a controversial arrest in the parking garage of the Lakeside Shopping Center, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The FBI opened an inquiry in February into whether the detective, Nicholas Breaux, used excessive force when he delivered four right hooks to the face of 17-year-old Brady Becker, a student at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace.
The violent struggle, a portion of which was captured on cellphone video by one of Becker’s friends, has been viewed more than 350,000 times on YouTube and prompted calls for the deputy to be disciplined, if not prosecuted.
Criticism of Breaux — he and his undercover partner, Cory Porche, were sued in federal court — drew a fiery response from Sheriff Newell Normand, who accused Becker of instigating the encounter in a drunken fit as he and several other teenagers left a parade in Metairie.
“We train our folks how to defend themselves,” Normand said during a March news conference. “I think Mr. Becker needs to learn to keep his hands to himself and maybe stay off the alcohol. That might help everybody.”
Becker, who received two black eyes and other facial injuries, called for Breaux to be fired, saying the deputy had assaulted him and “treated me like I’m not even a person.”
A detailed Sheriff’s Office report acknowledged Breaux had punched Becker but said the deputy did so “in hopes of gaining control of (Becker’s) violent behavior.”
The 37-second cellphone video shows Becker grasping at Breaux’s neck, and the JPSO report said the deputy, a mixed martial arts fighter, feared the teen was trying to strangle him.
Authorities said Breaux and Porche were patrolling the parking garage, an area known for underage drinking during Carnival, after the Krewe of Centurions parade Feb. 13. According to the incident report, the deputies approached Becker and his friends to tell them the parade had ended when the group began shouting “F*** the cops.”
The detectives said they identified themselves as deputies — one of several points that Becker and his friends disputed — but the teens refused to leave. Moments later, authorities said, Becker pushed Breaux in the chest and shouted a profanity.
The report says Breaux grabbed Becker’s arm, trying to handcuff him, but the teen resisted, punching the detective in the face and chest with his free hand. The detectives eventually booked Becker on four counts, including battery of a police officer and inciting a riot — charges that have not yet been accepted by the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s Office.
Becker filed an internal affairs complaint against Breaux, but Normand said no internal probe was conducted in deference to the FBI’s criminal investigation.
Becker’s attorney, David Belfield, said he was disappointed by the Justice Department’s decision, but he vowed to move forward with the civil rights lawsuit he filed on Becker’s behalf in U.S. District Court.
“This doesn’t affect us one way or another,” Belfield said.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.