I-TEAM: DA says meeting to discuss Brave Cave criminal investigation, case review imminent

Now that the FBI is involved in the BRPD investigation into the Brave Cave, District Attorney Hillar Moore says his office has its work cut out.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 5:51 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Now that the FBI is involved in the Baton Rouge Police Department investigation into the Brave Cave, District Attorney Hillar Moore says his office has its work cut out.

This comes as the WAFB I-TEAM has confirmed two officers with ties to the BRPD street crime unit—Todd Thomas and Jesse Barcelona—have been placed on paid leave. It’s unclear why they are on leave but the decision was made as the department is in the midst of zeroing in on the unit for alleged misconduct in the Brave Cave.

RELATED: BRPD placed officers on leave; matter ‘under investigation’

The District Attorney’s Office will now have to try and review cases touched by officers tied to the now suspended street crimes unit.

“This could cost us a lot of time and effort but it’s one that now you just have to do and I mean not only the law but justice itself just requires us to do that,” said Moore.

The District Attorney says his meeting with Chief Murphy Paul is imminent as they work to nail down the scope of their probe. Part of it will be reviewing cases these officers touched and part of it will be exploring potential criminal charges against some of the officers, depending on what the investigation reveals.

“I’m going to learn a whole lot more this week so I do not know what information the chief possesses but I take him at his word and obviously it’s due to the criminal investigation and one that we’re going to be involved with and I don’t know, it’s just too early to tell,” said Moore.

At this time there are two investigations being carried out by BRPD. One is an administrative investigation, where they try to identify if any departmental policies were violated and the other is a criminal investigation, where they reveal if any laws were broken inside the Brave Cave. At this point, Chief Paul says the agency has taken five different complaints and attorneys tell WAFB they have met with about 20 others who have similar allegations. It’s something the District Attorney says raises a lot of questions.

“How many years do you go back and what happens if somebody’s already plead guilty so those are questions we’re going to have to answer,” said Moore.

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief how hard it is to investigate something like the Brave Cave when there are new allegations coming forward by the day.

“Yeah, you know that’s the thing because obviously when we have a situation like this with these type of allegations, it is a priority so we dedicate investigators to look at this,” said Chief Paul.

In a one-on-one interview with the WAFB I-TEAM, Chief Paul said among their top priorities is determining if the alleged misconduct is tied to one officer or if there’s a larger pattern of abuse at play.

”One of the things that concern me and was one of the reasons we shut the unit down because it wasn’t about that one officer and that one individual,” said Chief Paul. “From the stories you ran, there were others around and so we start looking at are there cultural issues that we should address.”

The chief admits it’s a challenge that’s made even more difficult by a potential lack of video. With chunks of body camera video unaccounted for, he says they are relying on video from inside the facility itself to fill in some of the blanks on what may have gone on there. The only problem is the video recorded inside the Brave Cave is routinely deleted for capacity purposes, so it’s unclear how far back it goes.

When asked how far back the video that exists goes, the chief said that is part of the investigation.

“That’s what the investigation is going to determine. We know that there’s different ways that video can be stored and there’s a shelf life so what I did, when I learned of the investigation, we immediately directed our internal affairs commander to contact out IT division to preserve all of the video that was available at that facility and they did that,” said Chief Paul. “From the date that I told them to go do it until umm. I don’t have an exact date on that. That will be part of the investigation.”

What is even more concerning is the woman who claims she was strip-searched and faced a body cavity search inside the Brave Cave, says she tried to file a complaint with Internal Affairs but was escorted out of BRPD headquarters when she showed up to report it.

“Anytime someone is turned away that would be a shock but we wanted to make that process easier but it is concerning to me and that will be part of the investigation as well,” said Chief Paul.

The woman claims it was not until her attorney filed a complaint later that it was taken seriously. Similar allegations came out of the Jeremy Lee case. He was allegedly beaten so badly inside the facility he had to be treated at a hospital for a fracture rib and other injuries before he could be booked into parish prison. When his mother tried to file a complaint, she says things went unnoticed until her attorney stepped in on her behalf.

“Now we learned in this investigation that there were a few mistakes made in this particular case,” said Chief Paul.

Since the WAFB I-TEAM blew the lid off two separate allegations of police misconduct tied to the facility, the chief encourages anyone who may have faced any abuse or misconduct at the Brave Cave to speak up.

“If there’s others who have experienced this, I want you to go online, I want you to fill out a complaint and give us an opportunity to interview you so we can investigate this,” said Chief Paul.

Anyone who wishes to file a complaint of alleged police misconduct can fill out a complaint form here.

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