Three former Baton Rouge police officers were acquitted Saturday night of abuse of office charges that accused one of them of coercing a young woman to perform a sex act on him at a BREC park in February 2014 while his two fellow officers allegedly acted as lookouts.
Attorneys for two of the ex-officers -- Travis Wheeler, 29, and Emerson Jackson, 34 -- said their clients, who were fired two days after an East Baton Rouge Parish grand jury indicted them in November 2014, want to return to the Baton Rouge Police Department.
A lawyer for the other former officer, 42-year-old Isaac Bolden, who resigned months before the grand jury made its decision, said Bolden — who was accused of coercing the woman to perform oral sex on him at Old Hammond Park — currently lives in New Orleans but plans to move to California where his 21-year-old son works and his 14-year-old daughter goes to school
An East Baton Rouge Parish jury of four men and two women deliberated 90 minutes before reaching its verdict.
District Attorney Hillar Moore III said jurors indicated afterward they believed something occurred in the park that night but needed more evidence, particularly some form of physical evidence such as DNA, to convict. The panel also suggested that, in the future, an outside agency should be brought in to investigate when a member of the police force is accused of such wrongdoing.
The then-20-year-old woman who made the allegations against Bolden, Wheeler and Jackson was in the front row of the right side of the courtroom when the verdicts were announced. The former officers' families sat on the opposite side of state District Judge Tony Marabella's 19th Judicial District courtroom.
"A young girl told a bunch of lies," Wheeler's attorney, Harry Daniels III, said outside the courtroom. "We're going to try and get his job back."
"Yes, he very definitely wants to come back on the force," added Jackson's attorney, Tommy Damico, who said Jackson was fired over a false allegation.
Robby Gill, one of Bolden's attorneys, said the former officer is focused on "putting his life back together" and starting his next career, whatever it may be.
Prosecutors called 18 witnesses during the trial, including the female accuser and a male companion who was with her in the park that night, while the defense called just one witness, Bolden's wife.
Jamel Bolden testified earlier Saturday that her husband, who became a police officer in 2013, came home the night of Feb. 4, 2014, to eat dinner with her before heading back to work. She said he did not change his underwear.
But in her closing arguments, lead prosecutor Sonya Cardia-Porter suggested Bolden went home to change his boxer shorts, then went back to Old Hammond Park briefly to tamper with the alleged crime scene.
Gill chided the prosecutor for his assertion, saying in his closing argument there is no evidence that Bolden went home and back to the park for those reasons.
One of the state's final witnesses, Baton Rouge police Lt. Steve Wilkison, testified Friday that GPS technology showed Bolden's police car was at the park from 9:06 p.m. until 9:51 p.m., the time frame during which the woman said she was forced to perform a sex act on him, and that he was at his house from 10:25 p.m. until 10:48 p.m. He then returned to the park at 11 p.m. and left two minutes later.
Later that night, Bolden turned over a pair of boxer shorts to police investigators.
The former officers' accuser claimed she was in the park after hours with her then-boyfriend when the officers arrived. She testified Wednesday that the officers allowed her boyfriend to leave, leaving her alone with the men. She said she was not allowed to leave until she performed oral sex on Bolden. She said Bolden told her he wanted a "10-minute girlfriend."
Gill and attorneys for Wheeler and Jackson took turns attacking the woman's credibility, saying there were far too many inconsistencies in her story.
"A half-truth is a whole lie," Daniels told the jury.
Damico called the woman a "perjurer" who was not worthy of believing.
"Why can't she keep her story straight?" he asked rhetorically. "Because she's lying."
Cardia-Porter countered that the woman, who was traumatized by the events, had no reason to lie.
"Why would anybody put themselves through all of this if it didn't really happen?" she asked the jury.
The bottom line, Cardia-Porter said, is that Bolden, Wheeler and Jackson "crossed that line" while wearing the uniform and swearing to protect and serve the public. She asked the panel to "send a message … that you can't cross that line."
Bolden, Wheeler, Jackson and their accuser are black. The jury consisted of four whites and two blacks.
Each man faced up to five years in prison if they had been found guilty of abuse of office, but prison time was not mandatory, which is why a six-person jury heard the case rather than a 12-member panel.
The indictment alleged that the three men "knowingly and intentionally" used the authority of their office or position to "compel or coerce" the woman to provide something to which they were not entitled.
Prosecutors have said the alleged facts of the case did not fit the state's forcible rape statute, which requires force or threat of physical violence by the defendant. The woman testified the officers threatened to tow her car and arrest her and her male companion.