Federal lawsuit against Baton Rouge police officers begins
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal civil lawsuit against several members of the Baton Rouge Police Department involving an alleged case of excessive force began Monday.
A jury of seven heard opening statements from both sides, who painted very different pictures of the alleged incident.
Brett Percle filed the lawsuit which names officers Robert Moruzzi and Jason Acree as well as Police Chief Carl Dabadie among others.
According to Percle, he was at a home in June 2014 when a BRPD special response team arrived to search the home for marijuana.
Percle said an officer forced him to the ground and allegedly kicked him in the head, knocking out one tooth and shattering several others. Percle also said he was unlawfully strip searched.
In the end, Percale was never charge.
In a previous interview with the Investigators, Percle said he tried to file a complaint with BRPD, but his calls were never returned. He eventually filed the lawsuit with federal court.
"It's been a rough day, but I'm happy to be here," said Percle after the first day of testimony.
Moruzzi is the officer accused of kicking Percle in the head. A previous report by the Investigators highlighted other occasions where Moruzzi's actions have come into question.
Moruzzi was fired in 2008 after allegedly getting drunk and hitting someone at a bar while off duty. The civil service board overturned that decision, instead suspending him for 90 days.
A witness who was in the house at the time of the raid testified he saw something hit the back of Percle's head while the two were on the floor.
However, the parish attorney representing the officers told the jury in opening statements that his client did not kick Percle. Instead, the defense said Percle, in a panic, dove to the ground causing his injuries.
Court documents show Moruzzi stated he "did nothing to cause Percle to lose his teeth."
Dabadie was also called to the stand. He is accused of bad hiring practices. The current chief not only approved Moruzzi as a part-time member of the special response team, he later promoted him as a full-time member.
However, Dabadie testified he did not review Moruzzi's Internal Affairs record at the time, and that Internal Affairs did not raised any concerns.
He also testified he did not know about the case until the day before the trial began.
Though the chief could not talk about the ongoing trial, he said questions over an officer's conduct are never taken lightly.
"It's always an issue, you take officer conduct very seriously. We have a whole internal affairs divisions to handle these investigations. It's taken very seriously and we hold officers accountable," said Dabadie.
Acree, who is also named in the suit, was the narcotics investigator who initially called for the search on the home.
Percle's attorney said the trial is expected to last three days.
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