Breaking his silence Wednesday on the controversial cellphone video that shows a deputy repeatedly punching a high school student in the face, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand offered a full-throated defense of the deputy’s actions and portrayed the student as an unruly 17-year-old who should “maybe stay off the alcohol.”
Nearly three weeks after Brady Becker’s arrest in the parking garage of Lakeside Shopping Center, Normand delivered a fiery and indignant address to the news media, accusing Becker of trying to “bamboozle the public” and sully the reputation of the Sheriff’s Office.
The smear campaign, the sheriff said, began even as Becker remained behind bars on four counts, including battery of a police officer and inciting a riot, and stemmed from the student’s plans to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office.
Here is the extended video released from the JPSO:
Expressing frustration with news coverage of the arrest, Normand said he decided “to let this thing play out” and not to reveal publicly that his agency had opened a criminal probe early on into the actions of the deputy, Detective Nicholas Breaux, even though the Sheriff’s Office refused to open an internal affairs inquiry until Becker appeared in person to file a complaint.
The sheriff made clear that he believed Breaux, who was dressed in plainclothes that night as the Krewe of Centurions parade rolled in Metairie, responded appropriately to what he said was Becker’s resistance.
He said he expects Becker to apologize to Breaux, adding that he was “mystified” when the teenager held a news conference in Reserve and called for the deputy’s firing.
“Sometimes what’s constitutional and what’s accepted under the law ain’t always pretty,” Normand said.
The FBI confirmed last week that it has launched a formal probe into the arrest, an inquiry that appears to be focused on whether Breaux, a mixed martial arts fighter, used excessive force.
Normand dismissed Breaux’s fighting background as a “smokescreen” that Becker and his attorney, David Belfield, have used to fuel a “media circus” surrounding the arrest.
“He doesn’t have that great of a record,” the sheriff said of Breaux’s MMA bouts. “He’s 1-and-1.”
Belfield told WWL-TV he expects the U.S. Justice Department will reach a different conclusion from the Sheriff’s Office about the punching incident. “What matters is there’s a young kid on the ground being pummeled by a guy who is an expert in martial arts,” he said.
While Normand declined to second-guess Breaux, he said he wasn’t “so sure I would have struck (Becker) with my fist, for fear of breaking my hand.”
“But I’d have definitely kneed him in the groin,” Normand added. “I’d have kneed him in the stomach. I’d have tried to knock his wind out, because he does not have the legal right or authority to grab my officer. That is not what we’re paid for.”
Normand revealed that another video of Becker’s Feb. 13 arrest has surfaced, which he said shows a witness reaching for the weapon of one of two deputies at the scene and what appears to be a “wrestling match” between Becker and Breaux. Becker has accused Breaux of accosting one of his friends in the garage, while the Sheriff’s Office has maintained the student pushed Breaux and also threw the first punch.
Normand said some of Becker’s own witnesses have been “secretly and anonymously providing us with videos and pictures of what actually happened.”
It was difficult to discern what the new video depicts. Reporters were allowed to view it only a single time after turning off all recording equipment.
The video, which the Sheriff’s Office did not release, appeared to be longer than the 37-second clip of Becker’s arrest viewed more than 323,000 times on YouTube, which shows Breaux punching Becker in the face four times after the student reaches for the deputy’s neck. It, too, captured only a snippet of the incident, which apparently lasted several minutes.
Seeking to rebut suggestions that Becker, a student at St. Charles Catholic High School in LaPlace, had been traumatized by the incident, Normand presented a photograph, apparently posted to social media, of Becker drinking with his mother and others in the days after the run-in. One witness, he said, claimed that “Mr. Becker was seen in St. John or St. Charles Parish drinking yet again” just two days after the arrest.
Normand read aloud excerpts of Becker’s jailhouse calls with his mother and girlfriend, conversations the sheriff said showed the student had a faded recollection at best of the arrest. “He doesn’t remember anything,” Normand said, adding that Becker’s blood-alcohol content had been more than seven times the limit for driving for his age of 0.02 percent.
Becker’s run-in with Breaux, the sheriff said, was precipitated by an earlier arrest of one of Becker’s friends, whom he identified by name even though the boy is a 16-year-old.
“Mr. Becker was incredibly pissed off that we were arresting his friend, a fellow high school student, for possession of marijuana,” Normand said. “That’s why they started the chanting, ‘F*** the police. F*** the pigs.’ ”
With few exceptions, arrest records of juveniles involving nonviolent offenses are confidential under the Louisiana’s Children Code. Asked whether the Sheriff’s Office typically identifies juveniles, Col. John Fortunato, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said, “We have, on certain occasions.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.