A state judge on Thursday denied an attorney's request for the court to order the release of the Baton Rouge Police Department's body camera footage from a violent arrest that required medical care for the civilian involved.
Bystander videos of the Oct. 24 arrest outside an apartment complex off North Sherwood Forest Drive show two Baton Rouge Police officers, for minutes, on top of Steven Young, at times throwing punches — but police officials have said the officers' actions were justified. Young, who was later arrested, required medical attention before he could be booked into Parish Prison.
Young's attorney, Ronald Haley Jr., filed a request last month that the body and dash camera footage from the incident, as well as the police reports, be released under public records law. He wanted to review the footage before jumping to conclusions about the officer's actions, which drew vocal criticism and concern from bystanders.
State District Judge William Morvant dismissed the request Thursday, citing state public records law that gives agencies the discretion not to disclose investigatory records if they pertain to an ongoing criminal investigation. An attorney for the city-parish government testified that both the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Attorney's Office are looking into prosecuting Young. However, formal charges have not been filed by either agency.
The attorney for a man injured in a violent arrest in Baton Rouge is demanding the release of the Police Department's footage of the encounter.
Christopher Murell, another attorney representing Young, said in an interview after the hearing that while Morvant ruled with state law, this is more of an issue of transparency by the police department.
“We have one of the most restrictive public records acts in the country in terms of being able to obtain body cams," Murell said. "They’re right, they don’t have to give us body cam if they don’t want to; however, nothing in that statute prevents them from sharing it."
Haley said that if the video shows the officers were justified, it would be in the department's interest to share the video with the public, yet the department has fought the release at every juncture.
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“If this clearly exonerates the police officers, why not show it?" Haley asked. "It appears that Baton Rouge Police Department wants transparency when it’s convenient."
The department in August announced a new critical incident policy that allows for a quicker release of such body and dash camera footage before a criminal case is addressed, at the discretion of the chief of police. However, Baton Rouge Deputy Chief Jonny Dunnam said Young's case does not fall under the new policy because Young was not checked into a hospital. Dunnam did acknowledge that Young required medical attention before Parish Prison would book him.
Attorneys for the police department also denied a public records request from The Advocate in November requesting the body and dash camera footage from the incident.
Officers first approached Young, 42, because they saw him with a marijuana cigarette, according to his arrest report. When officers came closer, Young tried to conceal the drug, the report says, and then tried to flee. The officers tried to restrain Young, who fell, but then got up and tried to run again, the report says. Officers tried, unsuccessfully, to shock Young with a stun gun.
"The defendant then physically fought with officers for several minutes while punching, biting and kicking," the report says. "Numerous verbal commands were issued and ignored."
After the violent encounter, officers found a loaded gun in Young's pants; he cannot legally possess a gun because he is a convicted felon. Young was later booked after the encounter with the officers — a struggle that lasted more than four minutes — on possession of marijuana, illegal carrying of a firearm, illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and resisting an officer with force.
Young in a previous interview with The Advocate disputed many of the details from the report. He said he never tried to flee, but was tackled by the officers, and then hit with a stun gun and pepper spray, choked and hit. Young insisted he did not resist during the arrest, and said the officers continued to hit him even after he was handcuffed.
Dunnam previously explained that because Young was only handcuffed in the front — not the back, which is the most secure way — officers needed to protect themselves because Young could still move his arms, attacking the officers.
Haley said he is also troubled because federal prosecutors have now gotten involved in the case.
“The public revelation that the U.S. Attorneys office is looking at Steven Young is troubling to all of us,” Haley said. “Based on our experience as attorneys, he does not appear to be the type of offender that would draw the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office."
Young was previously prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2005, convicted as a felon in possession of a firearm and sentenced to federal prison for 42 months. Haley noted that incident, from 2003, was more than a decade ago. He said his client's initial felony, from before 2003, is from a drug conviction in Livingston Parish.
Haley also said he is concerned how the justice system could be retaliating against Young.
"The timing of their involvement in this case seems to coincide when he spoke up about police brutality," Haley said. "We would hope that is not the case, but it appears to be so.”
U.S. Attorney Brandon Fremin declined to comment on the case or respond to Haley.
"Department of Justice policy does not allow us to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation," Fremin wrote in an email.