THE INVESTIGATORS: BRPD admits no-knock warrant mix up; city to take responsibility for damages
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The Baton Rouge Police Department is admitting a mix-up occurred when officers carried out a no-knock warrant at a house after WAFB’s Scottie Hunter started asking questions about the incident.
A spokesman with the department also confirmed the city will take responsibility for damage caused during the search of the home.
The warrant was carried out around 5 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, according to the family inside the home at the time.
“We were looking for an attempted murder suspect,” said Sgt. L’Jean McKneely with BRPD. “Through surveillance, we thought there was a vehicle at the address that matched the description of the suspect’s car at the time of the shooting. After we made contact with everyone inside the home, we realized we had the wrong house.”
Parts of the door are still lying in the front yard and pieces of the front window are left blown out. It is evidence left behind after police carried out the warrant in the middle of the night Wednesday. Lawrenceen Wheeler Sr. says it’s the emotional scars that will linger most. Wheeler says his family was jolted awake to a loud bang. They say smoke was everywhere when police officers stormed the Erie street home. Pictures the family took to show how they say officers left the home with the door ripped off the hinges, glass sprinkled in the living room, and pieces of wood scattered everywhere. Wheeler says his biggest concern was for his family.
“From my mother-in-law down to my 9-month-old granddaughter was in that house... and all of their lives were in danger,” said Wheeler.
Wheeler says the situation was so terrifying, his 66-year-old mother-in-law, who suffers from dementia, used the bathroom on herself as officers barged in with guns drawn before slapping her and some of the other seven people inside in handcuffs.
“It upset her nerves so bad until she lost control of her functions,” he added. “She umm, her stool and her water, you know... she couldn’t control it and so she was basically just going to the bathroom on herself.”
According to the warrant given to the 9News Investigators, police were searching the home for guns or anything that tied back to Jaylon Smullen. He’s one of two suspects connected to a murder last month. The only problem is the family who lives in the home says they’ve never heard that name and believe BRPD got the wrong house.
“I know they got it wrong. I don’t think, I know they got it wrong,” said Wheeler. “My mother in law, this woman won’t even kill a mosquito if it tried to steal her blood so for her to be harboring somebody.. a criminal in her house? That’s not going to happen.”
BRPD says according to the information they had, including details about the suspect’s driver’s license, indicated the person lived at the home at some point. Officials tell WAFB the address was correct on the warrant and that they did believe the surveillance was correct.
After the incident, BRPD Chief Murphy Paul says the department received a formal complaint from an attorney representing the family. He says an investigation into what happened has been initiated.
Wheeler calls it unacceptable.
“Nobody’s saying we don’t respect the police because we do. We respect them,” said Wheeler. “They’re supposed to protect you but they come into your house and causing the chaos themselves.”
WAFB reached out to BRPD for body camera footage from the search. The video likely won’t be released today because the case is still under investigation. Back in July, when questions were raised over the techniques used when officers arrested a teenager the agency released body camera video days after the incident while that case was under investigation.
Weeks later, body cam footage when officers shot and killed a man who they say pulled a gun on them inside a Tigerland apartment was made available on the same day— just hours after that incident.
When pressed about why this case was different, a spokesman for the agency issued the following statement:
“Within our policy, we have some rules set to where if it warrants release to protect the interest of public safety, we will go ahead and release some videos.”
Police say they’re still searching for the two suspects involved in the shooting of a mother and her young daughter. One of the two suspects connected to that incident is who police believed lived at the home in which they executed the warrant.
“I have asked Police Chief Murphy Paul to conduct a thorough review after police mistakenly executed a no-knock search warrant at the wrong residence,” Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said. “The morning after the incident, I reached out to the family involved to apologize and offer support.”
Chief Paul will review procedures to help prevent another mistake like this, along with reviewing the value of no-knock warrants in general. The issue is also being examined by the state Taskforce on Police Reform.
Over the last 3.5 years, we have instituted a series of reforms to dramatically improve community-police relations, and will continue to do so. Those reforms include but are not limited to:
- Establishing an accountable use of force policy
- Requiring de-escalation in situations
- Equipping all officers with body cameras
- Implemented procedural justice training
- Improved and intensified the police departments officer wellness program
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