BRPD incident screenshot

Baton Rouge police released this video screenshot of an officer placing a knee on a teenager. Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said the knee was placed on his back, which is an approved tactic at the department.

Body camera footage released Tuesday evening of a Baton Rouge police officer kneeling on a juvenile suspect shows the teenager was pinned on the ground for 20 seconds, then got up and walked away in handcuffs.

Baton Rouge officials addressed the incident publicly on Monday after cell phone video was shared widely on social media, raising questions about excessive force. That video clearly shows the teenager lying face down in the street under an officer's knee.

Some found the image disturbing and eerily similar to the scene in Minneapolis where George Floyd died after an officer kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes while he pleaded for air. Floyd's death ignited nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.

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The Baton Rouge teen was restrained and handcuffed following a lengthy police chase — lasting almost an hour and spanning entire residential neighborhoods — after the driver refused to pull over, disobeying stop signs and running red lights. The teen was a passenger in the fleeing car.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul on Monday apologized for the incident but argued the officer placed his knee on the teen's upper back, not his neck. That means the officer's actions likely did not violate department policy, though an internal investigation is still ongoing, Paul said.

BRPD leaders claimed the teenager's breathing was never restricted while he was restrained, and the video shows him standing up and walking afterward. But his family said Monday the teen is now wearing a neck brace and has an upcoming appointment with a neurosurgeon. Two officers have been placed on leave pending the results of that investigation. 

It's not clear from the BRPD bodycam footage where exactly the officer's knee was placed. 

East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has called the incident "very concerning" and promised transparency. She said in a recorded statement Tuesday afternoon that regardless of what the video shows, "it is evident that there's still work to be done in the relationship between our police department and the community."

She also asked residents and business owners in the area who might have additional footage to come forward and share it with police.

The incident occurred near the intersection of North Acadian Thruway and Bogan Walk the evening of July 6. Both the juvenile and the driver were later arrested on counts stemming from the chase and marijuana possession.

Bodycam footage shows the following. 

The teen gets out of the passenger side of the car, which has come to a complete stop in the middle of the street. He immediately kneels to the ground with his hands in the air. The footage shows at least one officer with his gun drawn, pointing it at the teen while approaching him and telling him to "get on the ground."

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The officer and three others surround the teen, pushing him down and placing him in handcuffs. The camera angle briefly focuses on the officer's knee, showing it on the teen's back, but it's unclear whether the position changes after the camera focuses elsewhere.

Footage from another officer's camera shows the driver emerging from the car and walking toward police with his hands in the air. He then kneels in the street when an officer tells him to. The video doesn't show what happens to him after that.

Dashcam video from the chase shows the fleeing car speeding down residential streets, at one point crossing onto the wrong side of the road, with the driver ignoring stop signs and at least one red light. 

The driver's arrest report confirms the traffic stop was initiated because officers believed the occupants of the vehicle weren't wearing seat belts.

At some point during the chase a police unit "accidentally crashed into" another vehicle that wasn't involved in the pursuit and officers observed the driver and passenger smoking a joint. Police later found marijuana inside the car.

The teen was cited on various counts and then released to his mother. Officials aren't revealing his name but said he's 17.

The driver, Kimani Smith, was booked into jail on a variety of counts. He posted bond and was released from jail last week. Smith, 22, is the teen's cousin, according to family.

BRPD policies ban the use of chokeholds in all but emergency situations. But "a knee on a back is used as a control method," Sgt. Myron Daniels said during a press conference Monday. 

Because the teen suspect is a juvenile, the department needed permission from a judge to release the video footage. That permission was given Tuesday afternoon. Police had previously released a screenshot from the video — the moment showing a knee on the teen's back.

Ron Haley, an attorney representing the juvenile, said the still photograph didn't give an accurate representation of the entire encounter, especially since the position of the officer's knee could have changed off camera. Haley also questioned why the juvenile was apparently treated differently from the driver, "who was absolutely responsible for the chase."

"That's alarming," Haley said. "This kid who was so scared, already on the ground with his hands up before police even approached him."

The teen's mother said Monday that she was on the phone with him during the final minutes of the chase. She said he called her terrified about what would happen to him with the events in Minneapolis at the forefront of his mind.

Paul said releasing the body camera footage is the first step toward full transparency — an ideal both he and Broome have mentioned frequently over the past few years since the 2016 officer shooting of Alton Sterling prompted Baton Rouge leaders to engage in their own public reckoning with race and policing. Bodycam footage from the Sterling death wasn't released until years after the fact because the department cited ongoing investigations while both state and federal prosecutors spent months investigating before deciding not to press charges.

Paul was hired the following year after Sterling's death and later fired the officer responsible.  

In the car chase arrest, the department has 60 days to complete its internal investigation, which will determine whether the two officers placed on leave will be disciplined.


Email Lea Skene at lskene@theadvocate.com.