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Baton Rouge Police Officer Marshall McDermitt, left, receives a Lifesaving Award from Chief Murphy Paul during the Annual Meritorious Awards ceremony, Wednesday, May 30, 2018, at the L'Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge, La.

A former Baton Rouge police officer who repeatedly punched and bloodied a man outside a Tigerland bar last year was blocked from returning to the force Monday after a panel reviewing officer discipline upheld his firing.

Marshall McDermitt was fired last summer after an investigation into the April 2019 incident found he had violated several department policies during his interactions with the suspect and when giving descriptions of what had happened. The former officer lied about his actions, which were captured on his body camera and on private cell phone video, investigators said.

The former officer appealed his firing Monday before the Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which reviews discipline decisions for firefighters and police officers. The board unanimously upheld McDermitt’s firing.

McDermitt's superiors launched an investigation when video surfaced on social media of the incident, according to the notice of termination letter sent to him from Police Chief Murphy Paul’s office.

Paul told the disciplinary board that he had reviewed videos McDermitt’s interaction with people during arrests, which showed instances in which he swore at the people he was arresting. Of the dozens of disciplinary reports Paul received, he said only four resulted in an officer being fired.

“I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, but what I am saying is he cannot be a Baton Rouge police officer” Paul said. “Otherwise, we’re going to see him again.”

Video of the incident presented during Monday’s hearing showed McDermitt attempting to handcuff the man, though he was only able to secure one of his hands, which may have struck the former officer. The struggle between McDermitt and the suspect began when the man tried turning away. 

Training officers who testified during the appeal hearing said McDermitt was authorized to use force but should have stopped after the second or third punch, instead of the more than 10 he used.

McDermitt admitted to hitting the suspect "with a closed fist in the chin, nose and cheek area to gain compliance," according to the termination letter.

"You stated that you were not trained to hit someone in the face," the chief wrote to McDermitt. "Nevertheless, you felt that you had handled the incident correctly." When asked why he didn't disengage with the suspect, McDermitt replied that he thought the unsecured handcuff "could have been used as a weapon."

Kyle Kershaw, McDermitt’s lawyer, argued that the suspect was far taller than his client, which made the use of force necessary. He also unsuccessfully argued for the officer's firing to be nullified because the department didn't provide a letter immediately after Paul verbally fired him and instead wrote one weeks later. 

A majority of board members voted against nullifying Paul's action firing McDermitt. 

Investigators zeroed in on McDermitt's use of the term "incapacitate" to describe his efforts to subdue the man, whose face was already bloodied from fighting when officers arrived. Paul noted the ex-officer later acknowledged he was "never trained to incapacitate anyone under the circumstances."

Paul also concluded McDermitt had violated the following department policies: excessive use of force, truthfulness and conduct unbecoming.

The suspect was issued a misdemeanor summons for disturbing the peace through intoxication, resisting an officer and battery on an officer. He was not booked into jail.

McDermitt had served as a Baton Rouge Police officer for two years, working in uniform patrol before he was fired.

He was already enrolled in the department's early intervention program for officers whose conduct raises red flags to their supervisors. McDermitt had also served a two-day suspension prior to his firing for using obscenities while on the job in his interactions with civilians. Internal affairs investigators reviewed hours of body camera footage from 2017 and 2018, finding multiple instances when McDermitt’s behavior was deemed unprofessional.

That investigation was launched after East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III filed a complaint based on the officer's behavior when he responded to a call about a vehicle that wouldn't stop and proceeded to chase the driver while yelling profanities. McDermitt appeared to celebrate having used his stun gun on the suspect, officials said.

In addition to the suspension, McDermitt was ordered to take classes aimed at improving interactions with the public.

The civil service board upheld the suspension in 2018 when McDermitt appealed it.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.