The Baton Rouge Police Department is conducting an internal investigation after video posted on social media appeared to show an officer kneeling on the neck of a teenage suspect, who later stood up and walked away with police after being placed in handcuffs, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said.
Similar restraint tactics have been condemned since the recent death of George Floyd — who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for about eight minutes while the dying man pleaded for air. Broome did not mention Floyd's death in her statement Sunday night, but she was commenting on a Facebook post from local activist Gary Chambers Jr., who posted the video to social media with the following message: "A cop doing this after George Floyd knows exactly what they are doing."
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Broome said she has been in touch with Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul, who planned to meet with the teenager's family Monday afternoon. She said there has been an "expedited review" of the incident and "the investigatory process has started."
Paul also issued a statement late Monday morning in which he confirmed the department had launched an internal investigation last week and announced a press conference at 4:30 p.m.
"In the interest of continuing an effort of transparency with the citizens of Baton Rouge, the Baton Rouge Police Department is committed to making sure citizens are thoroughly informed," he said. "It is incumbent upon me to make sure every interaction between the public and members of the Baton Rouge Police Department is professional according to departmental guidelines."
Baton Rouge police have not released additional details about the incident, including why the young man was being detained and the outcome of his interaction with officers. Authorities declined to release his name because he's a juvenile.
Broome said only that he's 17 and was taken into custody and later released to his mother.
She said the department will ask the courts for permission to release the body camera footage, which is otherwise shielded from public view because of the suspect's juvenile status. It's unclear how long that process will take.
"We are prepared to ensure transparency and the release of that footage for public consumption," Broome said. "I ask that the community allow us to take the proper steps necessary to investigate and swiftly determine the outcome."
Broome expanded on those comments during an unrelated press conference late Monday morning, saying the video on social media "certainly causes concern" but suggested that viewing a more complete account of what happened would be essential to determining whether the officer should be disciplined.
"As I understand it, there is lengthy video of the entire incident. I have not seen that," she said. "It's important to see the entire video. Then we can assess what happened and where we're going from there."
Chambers called for the officer in the video to be fired immediately.
The juvenile is lying face down in the street while the officer restrains him and appears to place him in handcuffs. The video also clearly shows the teenager getting up from the ground after the officer releases him, and walking away escorted by two Baton Rouge cops.
As in the George Floyd case, the officer appears to be White and the suspect is Black. Several other Baton Rouge police officers are on scene assisting.
Floyd's death ignited widespread protests against racism and police brutality, creating an unprecedented call for reform in law enforcement agencies across America. The protests that have taken place in Baton Rouge over the past several weeks have remained peaceful even as other cities are still reeling from violence and destruction.
Local law enforcement leaders have praised the peaceful protests and attributed the relative calm to Baton Rouge's past reckoning with police practices, which resulted in a number of reforms here following the 2016 fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling and subsequent heated demonstrations. One of those changes was a ban on chokeholds in all but emergency situations.
Whether the restraint used in the video constitutes a chokehold, and whether it was necessary under the circumstances, will likely be the subject of the ongoing internal investigation. The video posted to social media doesn't clearly show whether the officer's knee was on the teenager's neck or his upper back.
Other videos of the incident, also included in public social media posts, show what appears to be a police chase with the suspect's vehicle. When the car finally stops, the teenager gets out and kneels down in the street with his hands in the air while several officers surround him with their guns drawn. A group of onlookers starts chanting "don't shoot."
Baton Rouge police released few details Monday morning but said they would make more information available later in the day.