Baton Rouge police unit

A Baton Rouge police unit shown May 22, 2017.

A Baton Rouge attorney no longer faces a felony charge stemming from a welfare check on his son at his home last August during which the lawyer cursed police officers, punched one, and ultimately suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Jeffry Sanford claims the officers' entry into his home was unconstitutional because they had no warrant or probable cause to do so.

The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office, which had charged Sanford in September with resisting a police officer with force or violence, dismissed that charge Tuesday during a hearing before state District Judge Kelly Balfour.

In April, the judge had found no probable cause and released Sanford from his bond obligation.

Sanford's lawyer, Joseph Long, said Wednesday that police are expected to act professionally but they "failed miserably in this case."

"Being a police officer is a hard job and it is not for everyone," Long added. "And if you can't stand to be spoken to disrespectfully without beating the suspect in front of his 12-year-old son and putting him in the hospital, you probably are in the wrong line of work."

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III noted the case involved a complex set of facts and evolving legal issues, and said the dismissal of the charge was based largely on the most recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that reviewed a similar situation.

Moore added that the officers in the Sanford case, who were dispatched to his house in reference to a welfare check of a juvenile, were put in the "unenviable position of making split-second decisions in a very tense situation."

"Their actions were completely understandable and we believe, were driven by their concern for the safety and well-being of a child," Moore said. "We support and applaud these officers' interest in making sure that the juvenile was safe especially in light of the situation that they faced."

In a court filing earlier this month, Long suggested that the actions of one of the officers, Joshua Kirst, were driven by something entirely different — Sanford saying "f*** you" to the officers.

"The comment made by Mr. Sanford may have bruised Officer Kirst's ego, it does not justify warrantless entry into his home to effectuate an arrest for resisting an officer," Long wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court stated in May that exceptions to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement are "jealously and carefully drawn" and wrote that "extending it into the home — the most protected of all private spaces — would create a loophole in the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement wide enough to drive a truck through," Long noted in his recent state court filing in the Sanford case.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Sanford, 56, filed a federal lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department in June, claiming officers used excessive force during the welfare check and violated his constitutional rights. He's seeking damages from the city.

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A BRPD spokesman has said the department conducted an internal probe soon after the incident and cleared Kirst and Officer Herbert Allen of wrongdoing.

Sanford's ex-wife asked police last August to check on their son, who was 12 at the time and staying with his dad, because she was unable to reach them by phone, according to the lawsuit. The officers knocked on the door and told Sanford why they were there.

Sanfordf told the officers her concern "was wholly unfounded and without factual basis" and he "became upset that the police, unannounced, had interrupted his evening with a non-criminal matter without either prior notice or a warrant," the lawsuit states.

After giving the officers a vulgar message for his ex-wife and then cursing the officers, he started to close the door but the officers — one of them "visibly angry" — barged into the house "without permission, a warrant, or probable cause of a crime being committed," the lawsuit says.

Once inside, a physical confrontation ensued and a stun gun was used on Sanford. His son witnessed the encounter.

Sanford was ultimately handcuffed and placed in a police car, where he stayed for about a half-hour. Then officers pulled him out and tried to shackle his legs.

"When Sanford widened his stance out of reflex, Kirst rammed the handcuffed Sanford into the ground from behind with his shoulder, using tremendous force, great violence and intent to do great bodily harm," the complaint alleges.

That violent struggle left Sanford with six broken ribs and a punctured lung.

Once he arrived at Our Lady of the Lake trauma center, his oxygen level fell dangerously low, Sanford said. He stayed there for three days before getting booked into jail. Two weeks later, after bonding out, Sanford was hospitalized again for more treatment of his collapsed lung, which ultimately required surgery.

In their probable cause report documenting the arrest, the officers described Sanford as "physically abusive." He immediately started using vulgar speech — including calling his ex-wife a b**** and telling police to beat her brains out — and clenched his fists once police made contact, the report states.

He later punched an officer in the face, according to police. Because of his violent attitude and body language, officers believed his son could be in danger, the report says.

Sanford had been jailed before — once in 2015 when a judge held him in contempt after a courtroom outburst. His record also includes at least three other arrests from several years ago. Court records show he pleaded guilty to resisting an officer in 2009 after being charged with domestic abuse battery.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.

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