Baton Rouge prosecutors have quietly started dropping charges against some defendants whose pending cases hinge on testimony from two detectives placed under arrest in recent months amid an ongoing corruption probe focused on the BRPD narcotics division.

At least a small handful of relatively minor charges were dropped at the request of prosecutors Tuesday morning in 19th Judicial District Court, records show. The dismissals happened quickly and without much fanfare, raising questions about how many more cases will follow and how far the ripple effects will extend.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his office is prioritizing pending cases with defendants are in jail awaiting trial. He said prosecutors have been instructed to seriously consider sacrificing some cases in hopes of maintaining public trust in the criminal justice system.

More dismissals are expected in the coming days and weeks.

"We need the community to trust that the system is going to work. That is of the utmost and ultimate importance at this point," Moore said. "That could mean releasing people with potentially significant backgrounds, large amounts of drugs and guns — cutting them loose because we believe this is the right thing to do."

Chief Deputy Public Defender Lindsay Blouin said in a statement Tuesday morning that her office is "profoundly alarmed by allegations of rampant misconduct" among BRPD narcotics detectives. She said public defenders are "reviewing all pending cases involving the narcotics division and are pursuing litigation on behalf of those clients."

That means obtaining and investigating the disciplinary history of involved officers, including the two facing criminal charges and four other narcotics supervisors who were recently transferred out of the division, Blouin said.

Prosecutors maintain a so-called Brady list of cops considered untruthful or otherwise untrustworthy — information that must be disclosed to defense attorneys in cases involving those officers. The recent misconduct allegations have pushed public defenders to gather some of that information themselves, hoping to provide an added layer of oversight, Blouin said.

She also echoed recent demands for a comprehensive and transparent review process to determine which cases are compromised. Black state legislators and the Baton Rouge NAACP sent a letter to prosecutors Monday demanding the creation of a panel to oversee the review, instead of allowing the issues to play out solely within the Baton Rouge criminal justice system.

The panel would include members of the public in addition to prosecutors, public defenders and civil rights advocates.

Problems at the BRPD narcotics division remained in the dark until one detective, Jeremiah Ardoin, was issued a misdemeanor summons in December for buying stolen electronics. While facing charges of his own, Ardoin alleged more widespread corruption, claiming narcotics officers routinely stopped and searched Black people without probable cause, planted drugs on suspects and coerced prostitutes into setting up drug dealers, according to a memo Ardoin wrote that was provided to department leadership.

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Ardoin also accused detective Jason Acree of stealing marijuana seized as evidence, among other misdeeds. BRPD internal investigators arrested Acree several weeks later. He was booked into jail on possession with intent to distribute and malfeasance in office.

Since then, four narcotics supervisors were transferred into uniform patrol, effectively cutting the division in half.

Baton Rouge police are conducting an internal investigation, though officials have declined to comment on whether additional arrests or discipline are expected. While Acree and Ardoin have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcomes of their cases, the four transferred supervisors continue to patrol the streets.

Of the charges dropped Tuesday, one man had been accused of drug possession in two separate but strikingly similar incidents, the first in January 2020 and second in March. Ardoin was the arresting officer, and in both cases he approached the defendant outside the same "known drug house" on Pocasset Street and found small amounts of drugs on him — heroin in one instance and Xanax in the other, court records show.

In another case from May 2020, Acree had been subpoenaed to testify about an investigation that started when detectives received word about a planned drug deal at a Plank Road gas station, according to police reports. Detectives later arrested a man who was accused of possessing 29 grams of crack cocaine and a gun. That defendant was incarcerated awaiting trial but would be released after the charges were dropped Tuesday, according to court minutes.

Yet another case from 2019 accused the defendant of selling drugs outside a convenience store on Weller Avenue after detectives found small amounts of heroin and cocaine inside a vehicle, records show. Acree was included on the subpoena list in that case.

All three pending cases were dismissed Tuesday morning.

Despite already taking action in some cases, officials provided little indication of what to expect moving forward or the total number of prosecutions that could be affected. Narcotics detectives often conduct a high volume of arrests simply because of the nature of their job.

Prosecutors have said they need more information from Baton Rouge police, who are still conducting their own internal investigation, before making substantive decisions in some cases. Officials also have not addressed how they will handle closed cases involving the arrested officers, particularly for people with past drug convictions that lengthen their criminal histories and could be preventing them from finding jobs, housing or educational opportunities.

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