The 16-year-old Black twins seen in a Saturday night video that's sparked outrage among civil rights activists may have been unfairly targeted by Lafayette Police officers for months, according to their lawyer.
Attorney Ronald Haley said the Celestine twins, who are not being identified by their first names because of their age, were targeted by Lafayette Police on Easter Day, June 1 and Aug. 23 before Saturday's incident, in which bystander videos depict an officer pushing one of the teens to the ground and punching him in the head multiple times while other officers pin him down.
The identical twins stood beside their lawyer and civil rights activists during a Monday morning press conference outside of the Lafayette Police Department.
"They're boys," Haley said to members of the media. "They're not threats. They are children. They are children, morally, and they are children in the eye of the law, and they should be protected as such."
Sgt. Wayne Griffin, spokesperson for the Lafayette Police Department, said on Sunday that officers were responding to a 911 call about a teen with a gun outside of Acadiana Lanes when the incident occurred, but no weapons were found at the scene or on the body of either of the teens. The twin who was hit repeatedly was arrested on counts of interfering, resisting arrest and battery of a police officer. His brother was not arrested.
Haley said the twins had been dropped off at the bowling alley and were waiting for a lane outside with a group of friends because of coronavirus restrictions limiting the building's capacity.
The Police Department said a series of events unfolded before the physical confrontation.
Police were called about 11:30 p.m. Saturday in reference to a person with a gun in the parking lot of the bowling alley on Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Griffin said. When officers arrived, they could not find a person who matched the 911 caller's description, so they left the scene without incident, Griffin said.
About 20 to 30 minutes later, officers were conducting an unrelated traffic stop in the same parking lot when the officers identified a suspect based on the description from the 911 call, Griffin said. At that point, officers approached one of the twins, who is not the same one seen in the Facebook videos, and patted him down for a weapon. Griffin said the teen did not have a weapon on him and was cooperative during the interaction. While that unfolded, the other twin approached the officers.
"I believe it turned physical because he may have approached the officers and got into their personal space," Griffin said on Sunday. "Then it turned physical. I'm not going to go into details of who swung first or anything like that. I just know that it turned physical."
Haley said the teen was questioning the officer to find out why police were patting down his twin for a weapon when the officer responded physically. Video footage seems to confirm that the teen only verbally interacted with the officer before the officer physically took the teen down. Audio on the videos is not clear enough to discern what the teen or the officer say prior to the aggressive arrest, which Haley said involved the teen being "assaulted and brutalized" by police.
*CONTENT WARNING: police brutality* . . . . . . . Lafayette PD beat up a 16 yr old kid at Acadiana lanes last night (9/5). It’s one thing to subdue someone, but one officer in particular was throwing punches repeatedly at full force. As details come out, it is being reported that the child in the video had been complaining about being harassed by the officer for several months. Are you angry yet? One of the police officers is named JEREMY SANFORDPosted by Steph Trifecta on Sunday, September 6, 2020
Interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan announced Sunday that an internal investigation was underway, and one of the officers involved has been placed on administrative leave and two others were pulled from patrol duties.
Haley said there is reason to believe the teens are being unfairly targeted by a 911 caller, by police or by both. Haley said after the press conference that he is unsure if the twins are specifically being targeted because of their skin color or if they're falling victim to a system that works against Black people.
"I think this is a problem, systemically, of Black children being perceived as older than what they are and perceived as threats and handled completely differently than other kids," Haley said. "So do I think this is a problem of systemic racism within policing of Black kids? Yes, I do. Is this specifically racist to this particular officer or group of officers? I'm not going to go there at this point. That's not fair to them."
At least one of the officers involved in Saturday's incident was also involved in prior encounters with the teens, Haley said, noting that at least one of those officers knows the twins personally.
There is at least one bystander video of one of the twins being treated by paramedics during the June 1 incident, in which Haley says police used a taser on one of the teens.
Haley is also representing the family of Trayford Pellerin, the 31-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by Lafayette police on Aug. 21 outside of a gas station along the Evangeline Thruway.
Demonstrators from Lafayette and the surrounding area have clashed with law enforcement and local leaders in the aftermath of Pellerin's death at the hands of police. They've taken to the streets to protest on several occasions, with some of those ending in confrontation between demonstrators and police.
After two weeks of public outcry, Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory met Friday with Pellerin's family and agreed to allow them to privately view police body camera footage from the night of the shooting.
Haley said Monday morning that the family has not yet seen the footage.
After Monday's press conference, about 20 activists marched in the area, holding signs and saying familiar chants against police brutality and racial inequality.
"There's something broken with our system in Lafayette. There's something broken with our system in Louisiana. There's something broken with our system of policing in this country," said Jamal Taylor, an activist with a group known as The Village.
On Friday, local civil rights leaders plan to partner with state and national organizations, including the NAACP and the ACLU, to file a formal complaint at the Office of the Attorney General in Baton Rouge to bring more attention to what is happening in Lafayette.
"I believe that it's going to bring hope to the city, that it's going to change around this whole state," said Devon Norman of the Lafayette branch of the NAACP. "I know it's in Baton Rouge, but make no mistake: what's happening in Baton Rouge is a collective effort from across the state to stand against what is happening in the city of Lafayette, and all across the state as well."