I-TEAM: New lawsuit alleges more improper strip searches, arrests by BRPD tied to Brave Cave and other sites

Newly filed federal lawsuit claims strip searches are being carried out by certain BR officers without regard for when those searches can legally be done.
Published: Oct. 19, 2023 at 4:09 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A newly filed federal lawsuit claims strip searches are being carried out by certain Baton Rouge police officers without regard for when those searches can legally be done.

The lawsuit, filed by prominent civil rights attorney William Most, outlines numerous instances where the attorney believes strip searches were illegally performed.

A portion of the lawsuit focuses on a 68-year-old woman and her paraplegic son. The son, Shermon, was strip searched at a warehouse off Plank Road during an interrogation in May of 2022, according to the lawsuit.

That warehouse is believed to be the secretive “Brave Cave,” a police black site first made public by a report from the WAFB I-TEAM. After our reporting, East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome ordered the “Brave Cave” permanently closed.

The lawsuit states that Shermon wears a diaper because he is paralyzed from the waist down. During the search, officers looked through the diaper and possibly performed a cavity search that Shermon could not feel because of his injury, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Most claims that officers later brought Shermon to East Baton Rouge Parish Prison where he was strip searched a second time. Most suggests that the prison had no business performing another search.

“There could not have possibly been any reason to think Shermon had weapons or contraband at EBRPP because officers had already subjected him to a prior visual body cavity search and he remained in custody until booking,” the lawsuit states.

The district attorney did not move forward with charges against Shermon, according to the lawsuit.

Then in June of 2023, Shermon and his mother were both arrested after a raid at their home, the lawsuit states.

Most wrote that Baton Rouge police officers - including former officer Troy Lawrence Jr. - searched the home without showing a warrant and uncovered firearms. The officers then handcuffed both Shermon and his mother so tightly that they injured their wrists, Most wrote.

Shermon was cavity searched by officers and then was taken to the parish prison where he was cavity searched again, according to the lawsuit.

His mother was also interrogated at the Brave Cave and charged for the guns found inside the home, the lawsuit states.

Most wrote that the guns found in the homes had previously been given back to Shermon’s mother by mistake. He accused the BRPD officers of improperly charging her for having those weapons instead of holding themselves accountable.

“But instead of filing a complaint against the BRPD officer, Beard arrested Carrie Mealey because the police gave her back her firearms,” wrote Most.

Shermon’s mother suffered through another cavity search after she arrived at the parish prison, according to the lawsuit.

While the lawsuit does not identify the Plank Road site by name, it does cite a police affidavit that identifies the building as the “street crimes office.” Most writes that he believes the building where the searches happened is the Brave Cave.

Another portion of the lawsuit focuses on interrogations involving a man named Houston Lawrence - two in 2019 and two in 2022.

Most writes that Lawrence has been taken to three different sites for interrogations since 2019. The lawsuit identifies one of those sites as the Brave Cave, a different site near S. Acadian Thruway, and a third site called the “EBRSO Narcotic Office.”

According to the lawsuit, money seized from Lawrence during some of those arrests was never turned in as evidence or returned to Lawrence.

This is the latest federal lawsuit that named alleged victims taken to the Brave Cave. The WAFB I-TEAM first identified the location after a man named Jeremy Lee filed a lawsuit claiming he was taken to that site and beaten so badly that the parish prison refused to take him until after he was checked out at a hospital.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul is leading criminal and administrative investigations into misconduct at the facility. The FBI is also investigating.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome announced that the police department permanently closed the Brave Cave, and that the street crimes unit that operated inside that building was disbanded.

The investigations into that unit has resulted in the arrests of four officers tied to a use of force incident in September of 2020.

Among those arrested was Troy Lawrence Sr., one of the police department’s top leaders.

His son, Troy Lawrence Jr., was also the subject of previous I-Team investigations which revealed serious misconduct. Lawrence Jr. resigned while under investigation.

A federal judge has ordered that the Brave Cave remains untouched until defense attorneys have the chance to inspect the building.

District Attorney Hillar Moore said his office was also reviewing cases tied to the Brave Cave and the street crimes unit to determine how any wrongdoing uncovered as part of the investigations could impact future court cases and previous convictions.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s office says strip searches are standard for any suspect who enters for the parish prison.

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