A high school student punched in the face last week by a plainclothes detective in Jefferson Parish called Thursday for the deputy to be stripped of his badge, breaking his silence as a cellphone video of his arrest drew an increasing amount of attention online.
As 17-year-old Brady Becker condemned the actions of Detective Nicholas Breaux, details emerged about Breaux’s experience as a mixed martial arts fighter, a background that several sources confirmed to The New Orleans Advocate.
The revelation raised new questions about the deputy’s use of force and whether Breaux, in a moment of conflict, employed potentially lethal weapons not issued by the Sheriff’s Office: his fists.
Becker’s attorney, David Belfield, claimed that pugilistic instinct trumped law enforcement training when the detective took the teenager to the ground in the parking garage of the Lakeside Shopping Center — landing four successive right hooks to Becker’s face that sent the teenager to the hospital.
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Becker, a junior at St. Charles Catholic in LaPlace, said he’s been in constant pain since the Feb. 13 incident and complained of blurry vision in his left eye, which had been swollen shut but has since reopened.
“That’s what he does — ground and pound,” Belfield said of Breaux. “That’s what you see on television on Saturday. We don’t expect that from a member of our police community.”
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand has refused to comment on the video, a 37-second clip that shows Becker reaching up and grasping at the deputy’s collar and neck and Breaux responding with a forceful series of punches.
Col. John Fortunato, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the agency will not open an inquiry until Becker appears in person to lodge a complaint, a requirement he described as standard procedure. He said Becker’s attorney couldn’t file a complaint on his behalf.
“Nothing has changed,” Fortunato said. “The moment that this young man appears in our Internal Affairs Division to file a formal complaint, we’ll investigate it fully.”
Belfield said he filed a complaint against Breaux with the Sheriff’s Office and asked U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. to consider bringing federal civil rights charges against the deputy. The FBI said it was aware of the video, posted to YouTube over the weekend, and has begun “looking into” the situation.
The footage had been viewed more than 158,000 times as of Thursday evening.
“Every time I see the video, my stomach turns,” said Becker’s mother, Donnell. “I would like to see the officer off the street.”
Even as Becker addressed reporters at his mother’s home in Reserve, questions remained about how the deputy came to encounter the youths in the first place.
Becker maintained that he and his friends had been “minding our own business” and that Breaux instigated the incident by confronting Jacob Jensen, a 16-year-old who said he was shaken by the sudden violence and decided to film the arrest with his phone.
“I believe that (Breaux) is not the type of cop that we need, the way he acted, the way he treated me, the way he treated my friends,” Becker said. “I feel like he assaulted me. He violated my rights. He treated me like I’m not even a person.”
Sheriff’s Office officials have said they didn’t open an investigation after viewing the video because they saw no evidence of wrongdoing on Breaux’s part. In a brief arrest report, they accused Becker of screaming “f*** the cops” and then pushing Breaux.
Breaux and an undercover partner, Cory Porche, encountered the youths shortly before 10 p.m. as the youths left a parade in Metairie. The cellphone video, which captured only a portion of the arrest, shows Becker reaching up and grasping at Breaux’s collar and neck area — a move that use-of-force experts said could be key in determining whether Breaux reacted with proportionate force.
Breaux, attempting to subdue the student, delivered four hooks to the teen’s face, blows that could be heard on the video and that drew cries from onlookers who were profanely warned to stand back.
Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said this week that the video, while depicting only a portion of the arrest, appeared to show the deputy using excessive force. “If that is how they train their officers,” she said of the Sheriff’s Office, “they have a problem.”
Becker, who allegedly told the authorities he drank “a half bottle of Crown” that night, was taken to the hospital for treatment of a cut above his eye and then booked on counts of possession of alcohol by a minor, resisting an officer, battery of a police officer and inciting a riot.
Becker said he also received a fractured jaw and cheekbone during his arrest.
In his remarks Thursday, Becker didn’t deny putting his hands on the deputy but suggested he did so in self-defense, adding he had “no clue” at first that he was even dealing with a law enforcement officer. He accused Breaux of turning his aggression toward him after he came between Breaux and Jensen.
“When I stepped in, I said, ‘What the F is going on,’ just trying to find out why he was getting in my friend’s face,” Becker said. “That’s when (Breaux) started beating me up.”
Becker acknowledged he “might have laid my hands on him just to get him back.”
“I’m sure I pushed him back because he was right here (in my face),” the student said.
Becker deflected a question about the role of alcohol in his arrest, saying “it really doesn’t matter whether I was drinking.” His mother later said a toxicology report did not show Becker had been “legally intoxicated,” though she did not dispute he had been drinking.
Breaux, a seven-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, has developed a reputation for his abilities in mixed martial arts, a sport of hand-to-hand combat that requires dedicated training. At one time, a fighting website ranked him 19th among “Louisiana amateur welterweights.”
Breaux’s profile on the website tapology.com shows he defeated an opponent in 2013 in just 19 seconds, a victory that earned him congratulations on Facebook from Overland Martial Arts, a studio in Marrero where Breaux appears to have served as an instructor. A man who answered the phone at the studio on Thursday confirmed Breaux had a connection to it but wouldn’t elaborate on the affiliation.
Fortunato, the Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said he didn’t have any information about Breaux’s participation in mixed martial arts. But one longtime fighting instructor, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and viewed the video of Becker’s arrest, said he recognized Breaux employing at least one common fighting technique in his attempts to detain the student with a knee.
“It’s not easy to deliver blows like that, and he’s definitely had some training,” said the instructor, Aaron Ard, an Ultimate Fighting Championship analyst and co-founder of the fantasy MMA company Kountermove.“If you’re not a fighter and you go up against somebody that is, it’s devastating. I’ve watched a lot of guys get really hurt.”
Becker, who described himself as “a pretty good kid,” said he’s watched the footage of his arrest with outrage and disbelief. He said the incident has sullied his view of law enforcement.
“I always thought cops would be on my side, and the cops were someone I could go to,” he said. “But after what happened, me and my friends, we look at cops differently. We look at cops like they’re our enemies.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.