Edwin Bergeron

Hammond Police Chief Edwin Bergeron stands with other law enforcement officers, addressing the media about an incident that involved a suspect driving into the Hammond Target and dropping a suspicious package Friday afternoon. 

The NAACP and several city council members are trying to oust Hammond's police chief after the renewed scrutiny of an incident from 2017 in which he and other officers kicked and punched a handcuffed suspect.

The city council is set to meet tonight with two items on the agenda about the police chief position.

Council member Kip Andrews -- the sole 'no' vote to Edwin Bergeron Jr.'s appointment last year -- is seeking to initiate an investigation into the Mayor's appointment of the police chief, and council member Devon Wells is pushing a resolution asking the mayor to remove the chief from the position.

Bergeron was appointed as police chief in 2019 despite outrage among some in the community over the incident, in which multiple White officers punched, kicked and used a stun gun on a Black detainee. But Mayor Pete Panepinto said at the time it had been reviewed by multiple investigating agencies and cleared.

A brief 30-second video was circulating on social media when Bergeron was appointed, but some advocates now say that video didn't tell the whole story.

A lengthier video published recently by WBRZ-TV shows roughly 12 minutes of the encounter. The suspect, Kentdrick Ratliff, can be seen handcuffed in a booking room lunging toward two bottles of pills that were left on the booking room counter. Bergeron and another officer attempted to restrain Ratliff by punching and kicking him repeatedly, which resulted in his going through and breaking the booking room table. 

The officers used a Taser and continued kicking and punching Ratliff on the ground, eventually also restraining him with a knee to the neck and face area.

The renewed public concern over Bergeron's appointment caused a special meeting last week in which numerous residents sought further investigation into the booking room incident. Panepinto said during that meeting that the FBI was re-investigating what had happened, but no official action was taken at the meeting.

Baton Rouge NAACP president Eugene Collins said the organization has been involved in the Ratliff case for years, but it had always been difficult to obtain the full information about what happened during the encounter. Now the longer video has been leaked, he said he's hoping the chief is terminated.

"We knew this issue was brought up some time ago, but there were pieces of that video that were never shown and the city wasn't forthcoming with a brand new city council," he said. "That city council had been in place for a month. There wasn't enough time, it wasn't handled properly and we think that was by design so this under-qualified candidate and the Mayor's friend could be appointed."

Collins said that, while Ratliff made the decision to lunge for the pills on the counter, the force that followed wasn't justified. 

"When you look at the knee to the neck, our country has seen what that can do to people," he said, referring to the May death of Minneapolis man George Floyd after police officers kneeled on his neck for eight minutes.

"Then, outside of that, this guy was punched five times in the face, they knocked his teeth out, to us it's a no-brainer that this man shouldn't be in that position."

Bergeron and Panepinto did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. The city council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.


Email Emma Kennedy at ekennedy@theadvocate.com.