A Baton Rouge police investigation found insufficient evidence to support a complaint against an officer placed on leave last spring after a cellphone video showed him punching a 16-year-old boy during an arrest at the city's Earth Day celebration.
The internal affairs complaint against the policeman, Sgt. Todd Bourgoyne, was found to be "not sustained" by Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. on August 25, according to police spokesman Lt. Jonny Dunnam, meaning investigators didn't find evidence of wrongdoing or a violation of department policy.
Complaints against officers can result in three findings: exonerated, not sustained or sustained. The "not sustained" designation, Dunnam said, indicates "there wasn't enough evidence either way."
The decision came more than four months after Bourgoyne returned to active duty after a roughly two-week stint on paid administrative leave following the April 17 incident.
The Advocate requested information about the results of the internal investigation into the incident, as well as information about other publicly reported complaints or incidents involving city police officers during the past year.
Video of the Earth Day altercation, which shows Bourgoyne striking the teen several times on the head or shoulder as other officers restrain the boy during an arrest near the River Center, sparked controversy at the time, with critics of the department decrying it as an example of excessive force.
But the chief concluded that the internal investigation into the incident didn't turn up evidence to support those allegations. Dunnam, the police spokesman, said investigators considered witness statements and other evidence beyond the widely shared video but said he couldn't discuss details of their findings.
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Police officials and the then-president of the officers' union, Sgt. Chris Stewart, defended Bourgoyne's actions at the time, saying the video didn't capture the entire scene and that the teenager had struggled with police.
"If it’s a violent situation, the officers are trying to stop the resistance immediately and take the person into custody, and I think that’s what happened," Stewart said in April. "The necessary force was used to stop the resistance."
An attorney for Ja'Colby Davis, the teenager being struck and arrested in the video, filed a federal lawsuit on Friday claiming that Bourgoyne and a second officer, Blane Salamoni, arrested Davis without cause and administered a "brutal beating."
The suit also claims three as-yet unidentified officers held Davis down during the alleged beating.
Salamoni, who wrote the police report for Davis' arrest, is currently on paid leave while the FBI and the federal Department of Justice investigates the July 5 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in a North Foster Drive convenience store parking lot. Salamoni was identified to The Advocate by a source as the officer who shot Sterling. That investigation remains ongoing.
The roughly 13-second video of the Earth Day incident appears to only show one officer striking Davis during the arrest.
The incident, according to police, came amid a raucous and occasionally lawless celebration downtown, including several fights between young people and reported gunfire in a nearby parking garage. It's unclear whether any of those events was directly related to the filmed arrest.
Davis, who was identified to The Advocate by his mother, was booked into the juvenile detention center on counts of battery of a police officer and resisting an officer — charges that were dropped by the East Baton Rouge District Attorney's Office on October 9, according to Battiste, his lawyer. Hillar Moore, the district attorney, said he couldn't comment on the case because Davis is a juvenile.
Battiste said he was "saddened and deeply disappointed" by the outcome of the internal affairs complaint.
"Here you have a kid who's getting beaten in the head by a police officer, an officer who already has prior disciplinary issues, and he goes and beats this kid in the head," Battiste said, referring to an 87-day suspension Bourgoyne was given in 2000 after reportedly admitting to groping and kissing a woman after responding to a domestic disturbance at the woman's home. "You've seen the video — and then they find no wrongdoing. Some people would say it's a miscarriage of justice."
Bourgoyne didn't return a message left as his home seeking comment. An attorney for Salamoni declined to comment.
Sgt. Bryan Taylor, the current president of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, said the outcome of the internal affairs investigation speaks for itself and that he had no additional comment about Bourgoyne's case, or the other cases reviewed for this story.
Among those incidents was the January arrest of Lt. Charles Lee Eddleman by Port Vincent Police. Eddleman, then a Patrol Division supervisor, allegedly attacked a man from behind in the Blues Bar, slamming the man's head into the concrete floor and then punching the man several times, leaving him unconscious.
Eddleman, who is facing a charge of second-degree battery in Livingston Parish, remains on paid leave with BRPD, said Sgt. Don Coppola Jr., a police spokesman. An internal affairs investigation into the incident has been completed and is currently pending an administrative review.
A court date in the case is scheduled for Monday, but no trial has yet been scheduled. Eddleman's attorney did not return a message left with his law office.
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Melvin Cosey Jr., a Baton Rouge police patrolman arrested on Oct. 21, 2015, for allegedly attempting to strangle his wife and threatening to kill her, was fired from the department a month later. A criminal charge of domestic abuse battery — as well as charges of forgery and impersonation of a police officer from subsequent arrests — remain pending.
An appeal of his firing lodged with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which has the power to overturn terminations and other discipline for officers, has been postponed pending the resolution of Cosey's criminal charges.
Two officers who pointed firearms at protesters during July demonstrations over the Sterling shooting were not formally investigated, according to Dunnam.
During one of the two incidents, an officer drew his handgun at an unarmed group of protesters while attempting to arrest a woman blocking traffic. In the second, a police officer, standing on the end of a line of riot police, repeatedly aimed a rifle at protesters while demanding they get back before another officer pulled her off the front line. Both incidents were filmed and witnessed by reporters.
Dunnam said both officers "were removed from the front lines of the protests while their supervisors investigated their actions" and ultimately received further instruction from their commanders.
"An officer is allowed to draw their weapon and point it at a perceived threat," Dunnam added in an email.