THE INVESTIGATORS: Woman, attorneys raise questions after sheriff’s office confiscates phone for weeks amid investigation

THE INVESTIGATORS: Woman claims WBRSO arrested her for recording son's arrest

ERWINVILLE, La. (WAFB) - Lori Wright calls it one of the worst nights of her life.

Three weeks ago, she claims she was roughed up by West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Vance Matranga, all while her son was being arrested. Wright says she ended up with bruises on her face from the encounter.

“I’ve never been arrested in my life and I’ve never gone through anything like it,” said Wright.

It all went down in the parking lot of the Raxx Night Club in Erwinville. Surveillance video obtained by the 9News Investigators shows Wright recording after her son led deputies on a high-speed chase. At one point, the video shows two officers come up to her. While the video does not have sound, it does show one of the officers take her phone. A short time later, she says it all went from bad to worse.

”He said, ‘Ma’am, I’m tired of hearing you talk and I don’t give an F where you work.’ He said, ‘You’re arrested,’ and that’s when they took me and slammed me against the wall,” Wright added.

The next minute, Wright was slapped in handcuffs and arrested for obstruction. A statement released on Facebook by the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office claims she was interfering with the investigation and that she jerked away from officers, then hit one of them in the chest when he tried to arrest her. The video WAFB was able to obtain does not show that incident and Wright’s legal team argues the situation should have never gotten out of hand.

”Everything was over. Her son was detained and he was in a car,” said attorney, Dedrick Moore. “After that, they came and took her phone, caused this unnecessary confrontation with my client just to get the phone.”

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter showed the surveillance video to attorney Franz Borghardt. He’s not part of Wright’s legal team but calls the situation troubling.

”It is clearly troubling that you would expect to see things that align with the sheriff’s office statement and they are just not on the video,” said Borghardt.

While the sheriff’s office says it’s investigating the allegations against Deputy Matranga, the best possible evidence could be whatever was recorded on Wright’s phone. Her phone is still being held, weeks later.

”Sometimes the absence of evidence can be evidence,” said Borghardt. “Frankly, I have concerns about whether or not that device is still going to be in working order and if the video is still going to be on there because if the video is not on there, or if the cell phone is broken, the optics of that look horrible for the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office.”

Borghardt says everyone has the right to record a police encounter as long as they’re not interfering with an arrest or intruding on a crime scene, and he believes based on the videos that have been made public so far, there’s no reason Wright should have been arrested.

”If she is actually interfering with the arrest or investigation, the police do have the right to detain and possibly arrest her for obstruction of justice. I don’t know that we have that here,” said Borghardt.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the attorney if the sheriff’s office should still have the woman’s phone weeks after the incident.

”In 2020, the time it takes to get a warrant to do a data dumping of a phone is in real time, very feasible within a day or two,” said Borghardt. “In fact, it’s feasible within a few hours. There’s no reason that phone can’t be given back to her.”

WAFB reached out to the sheriff’s office about the phone. They handed over two warrants. One was for Wright’s arrest and the other was to search her phone. The search warrant wasn’t signed by a judge until July 27, 2020, ten days after the incident. Sheriff Mike Cazes explained the status of the phone in the following statement:

”The internal affairs division is looking into the case and the phone has been turned over to the Attorney General’s Office, which is working to download the appropriate files. We as an agency have the ability to download files, but we went through a third-party agency to ensure transparency.”

Another video recorded by Wright’s other son has surfaced in recent days and shows deputies explaining why they were taking her phone.

”She was filming part of the pursuit that ended here. We’re going to seize her phone as evidence. She’ll be able to get it back from the DA’s Office after a search warrant is done and a phone dump. We will not delete anything,” one of the deputy’s said.

Part of the video shows Wright’s phone in Deputy Matranga’s hand during the explanation and at one point he even jokes that he will record the encounter.

”Hey look, I’ll film it,” Matranga can be heard saying in the video.

He continues to hold the phone up and then later, the deputy can be seen apparently using the phone and smiling. Wright and her legal team say it’s clear the deputy crossed the line.

”We see here that this police officer, I believe, was provoking her to act outside of her character,” said attorney, Ashley Greenhouse. “He was mocking her and it’s unacceptable.”

”If you have that officer manipulating the phone while on camera and continuing to record and maybe erasing these things, then that too is obstructing justice,” Moore added.

In a statement, Sheriff Cazes tells WAFB they’re working tirelessly to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

”The West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office is committed to getting to the truth in this matter and determining the validity of the allegations made against one of our deputies,” the statement reads.

Based on these videos that have been made public at this point, Borghardt and Wright’s legal team believes the sheriff’s office should step away from the case.

”If I were the legal advisor to the sheriff’s office, which I am not, I would advise them to have the state police take over the investigation,” said Borghardt.

”Transparency, Scottie, and accountability is what the community wants and it’s what the community deserves,” Moore added.

In a call Monday, Aug. 3, a spokesman for the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office tells WAFB they did get Wright’s phone back from the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office and they’re working to contact her so she can pick it up. We’re told according to a preliminary review of the files on the phone, nothing has been deleted.

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