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THE INVESTIGATORS: Federal lawsuit filed against deputy accused of choking teen

The federal lawsuit says the deputy should have never been hired to patrol the streets, mainly because of his checkered past.
Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 5:21 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 3, 2022 at 5:38 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A trial is looming for a Jackson deputy marshal accused of choking a teenager, and now he faces even more legal trouble for what a fellow officer says he did that night. This latest court battle could mean trouble not just for the officer but for the department and the town. Not only is deputy Clay Depew being accused of wrongdoing but attorneys argue the department and the town should be held responsible because they knew he was not a good hire before they let him loose on the street.

The federal lawsuit says the deputy should have never been hired to patrol the streets, mainly because of his checkered past. It’s a past that was first uncovered by the 9News Investigators almost a year ago after he was accused of wild behavior, including choking a teenager and using racial slurs at the Main Street Market gas station in February 2021.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked an attorney who helped file the lawsuit why it’s a problem that WAFB was able to find out the officer had been charged and let go from another law enforcement agency prior to this latest arrest.

“It’s a problem because if you knew then they knew,” said attorney Ashely Greenhouse. “If there was a background check performed for this employment, then they knew.”

Depew eventually turned himself in on charges of simple battery and malfeasance in office. That criminal trial is set to go in June but this lawsuit - separate from that case - names the deputy, the Jackson Police Department, the chief, and the town, saying they all played a part in what happened.

“Every opportunity that we have to establish the record of the wrongdoing that some of these bad actors are performing in our streets, we’re going to take it every time,” said Greenhouse.

Back in February 2021, the teen and his friends showed up at the gas station. Once they got there, the lawsuit claims deputy Depew immediately got aggressive, calling the teen the N-word and choking him. Surveillance video from the store that night does not capture the encounter but a source close to the case tells the 9News Investigators another officer who was on the scene that night had to step in to pull Depew off the teen. The other officer’s testimony is what ultimately led to the charges against Depew.

“We wouldn’t be here without him so we’re just thankful for that involvement of the other officer because this could have ended really bad,” said Greenhouse.

Even with that testimony, the surveillance video is the only available video from that night. When WAFB first started asking questions about the case it was revealed that the officer was equipped with a body camera and that officers with the Jackson Marshal’s Office have had those cameras since 2015. Despite the officer being equipped with a body camera though, no other video was captured that night.

“He was equipped but there’s no video from it of course and we’re not surprised by it,” said Greenhouse.

The 9News Investigators have exposed a prior criminal history with the same officer, showing Depew was arrested and fired from another agency back in 2017. According to arrest reports from the Pointe Coupee Sheriff’s Office, Depew was arrested for stalking and malfeasance in office. WAFB tried to find out more information about those charges but they were expunged. The records were wiped away a little more than two weeks before he was accused of choking the 16-year-old but they should have been visible before that time. Attorney Greenhouse says that calls into question whether Depew should have even been hired in the first place. In fact, she alleges the town and the police department did not properly look into the officer before giving him a gun and a badge.

“He’s got some very serious allegations out there that never should have gone unchecked,” Greenhouse added.

The lawsuit also cites other lawsuits that accuse Depew of roughing up Black drivers during traffic stops, including tackling a woman, beating a man in the face with a flashlight, and slamming another man’s head into the ground. It remains unclear if the Jackson Marshal’s Office performed a background check prior to hiring Depew.

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