The man initially arrested in an August traffic stop that escalated into an officer shooting filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday alleging the Baton Rouge Police Department violated his constitutional rights by recklessly endangering his life, then detaining him on false information. 

Raheem Howard, who was later released from jail because the case lacked evidence, further claims in the suit that the traffic-stop-turned-shooting by former Officer Yuseff Hamadeh was a failure by the Police Department to properly train, supervise and discipline officers, and was an outcome of policy and practice that protects dangerous cops instead of civilians. 

Hamadeh's conduct "was in willful, reckless, and callous disregard of (Howard's) rights under federal and state law," the lawsuit alleges, adding that all the defendants "acted jointly and in concert and conspiracy to maliciously bring fabricated and false attempted first-degree murder charges against Mr. Howard."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S District Court in Baton Rouge on behalf of Howard, now 22, against the city of Baton Rouge, Hamadeh, Police Chief Murphy Paul and Hamadeh's unnamed supervisor overseeing the Street Crimes Unit, which focuses on proactive policing in high-crime areas. 

"This problem is bigger than just what happened to Raheem; it stems from a cultural issue, in particular with the Street Crimes Unit," Ronald Haley Jr., one of Howard's attorneys, said at a news conference Tuesday. "It seems like we can have transparency when it's to the convenience of the Police Department, but when transparency is not to their convenience, we don’t get it.”

Haley, however, made a point to offer his condolences to the city's Police Department for their loss of Cpl. Shane Totty, who died Friday after a truck crashed into his motorcycle while he escorted a funeral procession.  

"Our hearts are with them. This is not anti-police in any way," Haley said. "We are very much pro-police, but what we aren’t for is bad policing, and that’s what we believe happened here.”

Hamadeh was fired in October after investigators determined his account of the shooting did not align with the evidence from the scene, however limited. Hamadeh claimed that as he chased Howard, who ran from the Aug. 7 traffic stop over a missing license plate, Howard shot at the cop, prompting the officer to return fire.

About three weeks after Howard turned himself in and was booked on counts of attempted murder of a police officer and illegal use of a weapon, District Attorney Hillar Moore III dropped the case, explaining that the evidence and witness accounts disputed Hamadeh's version of the shooting. 

The Baton Rouge police internal affairs investigation found evidence that only one shot was fired in the encounter, and it came from Hamadeh's gun. No other gun was recovered from the scene. Howard always contended he never had a gun or fired at the officer.

The investigation also determined that neither Hamadeh's body nor dashboard cameras captured any video from the encounter, because they were turned off at the time. Hamadeh's rear dashboard camera, which was not properly mounted, captured only audio. No one was injured in the shooting.


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"As a direct result of Officer Hamadeh’s lie that Mr. Howard had fired a weapon at an officer, a massive city-wide manhunt was initiated," the lawsuit says. "Mr. Howard was labeled by the authorities as 'armed and dangerous.' This pursuit and manhunt predicated upon Officer Hamadeh’s lie placed Mr. Howard in tremendous fear of great bodily injury or his death, as well as placed Mr. Howard’s life and safety in extreme jeopardy."

The lawsuit connects this incident to a 2017 shooting in which Hamadeh killed Jordan Frazier, a passenger who fled from a traffic stop. Frazier's autopsy showed that he was shot three times — twice in the back — but no body or dash camera captured that shooting either. Hamadeh returned to work after State Police investigated that shooting and found no wrongdoing.  

BRPD failed to "reprimand and discipline BRPD officers who engage in misconduct … (and) otherwise control BRPD Officers who engage in excessive force and/or unjustified shooting against civilians," the lawsuit alleges. "Allowing the practice and custom of a 'police code of silence,' resulting in BRPD officers refusing to report instances of police misconduct of which they are aware."

Christopher Murell, who also represents Howard, said he hopes the Police Department can respond in a productive way to the lawsuit, finding ways to improve its policies on body cameras, use of force, discipline and training.

"This lawsuit can serve as a pivotal point of the Baton Rouge Police Department to accept responsibility, to acknowledge its shortcomings, to rebuild its relationships, so we can have a Police Department that we all trust," Murell said. “What we want is a trustworthy, dependable, accountable Police Department. … That benefits everyone.”

The parish attorney's office, which represents the city, including the BRPD, in lawsuits, did not return a request for comment Tuesday. Hamadeh's attorney, Tommy Dewey, deferred to the parish attorney's office. 

Because of the shooting, Howard's arrest and its aftermath, the lawsuit claims he suffered the prolonged loss of liberty, emotional distress, trauma and financial losses. Haley said Howard has since moved to Florida, where the Sean Carter Foundation, a nonprofit that helps people facing socio-economic hardships, connected him with a job and housing. 

“He felt he had a target on his back; he felt like his reputation was forever changed. … He was in constant fear," Haley said, noting that Howard wanted to leave his hometown after the shooting. "He hopes that this does not happen again. … He wants change.”

The lawsuit comes almost three weeks after the Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service board reversed the termination of Hamadeh over of a violation of his officer rights. The board voted that Hamadeh was denied his right to counsel during a polygraph exam administered during the internal affairs investigation of the shooting, the first time in about five years a lie detector test was used by BRPD internal affairs. 

Chief Murphy Paul said he would appeal that decision, stalling any immediate change in Hamadeh's employment status. However, it did not appear as of Tuesday that an appeal had been filed with the civil service board or the 19th Judicial District Court. 

Haley and Murell both said they still hope Hamadeh will face criminal prosecution in the case by the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office, calling Howard's arrest a cover-up by the department. District Attorney Hillar Moore III has said he is reviewing the case but has noted that BRPD investigators did not find probable cause to arrest Hamadeh. 

“Officer Hamadeh’s actions were unquestionably wrong," Murell said. "He lied to a judge in order to have Mr. Howard arrested. He lied that Mr. Howard shot a gun at him. The Baton Rouge police can work with us on this lawsuit; they can work with us to find solutions.”


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.