The Investigators: Federal jury rules against BRPD in excessive force case
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A federal jury spent all day Thursday and much of the night deciding whether the Baton Rouge Police Department should be on the hook for claims against two officers who are part of the Special Response Team.
The plaintiff, Brett Percle, left federal court overwhelmed with emotion after a seven-person jury ruled Baton Rouge Police Corporal Robert Moruzzi used excessive force when he and other officers raided a house on Lila Street nearly two years ago.
"I feel vindicated," Percle said.
Percle said he filed suit after Moruzzi stomped his head and knocked out his teeth. The jury also found that it was unreasonable for Detective Jason Acree to strip search Percle. The jury also said they City of Baton Rouge should have known officers were doing these types of searches. However, the jury said did not agree that there was any intentional emotional distress or reckless endangerment.
Moruzzi declined comment after he left federal court.
Percle was awarded $25,000 in damages as the jury said the city should have known better. His attorney Kearney Loughlin said it sheds light on a bigger problem in the police department.
"We always said it wasn't about the money. The jury sure agreed with that, but they also agreed with what it was about, holding someone and the city accountable," Loughlin said.
Tedrick Knightshead, the attorney for BRPD, was disappointed and surprised by the jury's verdict.
"Obviously, we felt like there was enough evidence to suggest the way the plaintiff described it happening didn't happen that way," Knightshead said.
"Although the department respects the judicial process and the decision of the jury, we were disappointed with the verdict. We feel that our officers acted within the bounds of the law. The plaintiff initially requested half a million dollars to settle this matter, although by the time of the trial his request to the jury was $253,000," said Lt. Jonny Dunnam with BRPD in a statement Friday.
Percle's lawsuit was the first excessive force case lodged against the BRPD to go to trial in several years.
"I think it was worth the taxpayers' money to establish that if you make a claim against the police department we are not going to just pay you. You are going to have to come in and prove it. That's our plan," Knightshead said.
"There are numerous lawsuits filed against the department every year. Particularly, in this case, there were initially eighteen officers listed as defendants," said Lt. Dunnam in the statement. "All but two officers and the Chief were dismissed before trial. We were under the impression the Chief would be dismissed as well, until the day before the trial began."
The court dismissed claims against Police Chief Carl Dabadie who, despite discussing the case with the Investigators last October, denied knowing anything about the lawsuit before Sunday.
While Percle and his attorney said it is one of many questions for which they may never get answers, Percle feels justice has been served for Moruzzi's actions.
"This has been two years in the making and finally I got to prove what he did to me," Percle said.
The Investigators asked for a comment from Chief Dabadie and were told all comments would be handled by the parish attorney's office.
"Chief Dabadie stands by the actions of his officers. The plaintiff admitted, under oath, to having both drug abuse and mental health problems," said Lt. Dunnam in a statement. "Furthermore, he and his witnesses admitted to using drugs on the day of the incident, immediately prior to the execution of the warrant. The Chief believes the facts as testified to by numerous officers, rather than believe the version of events of the plaintiff and his associates."
Furthermore, the Investigators' request for BRPD's policy on strip searches has also gone unanswered.
"The department is constantly reviewing its policies, procedures, and training. They are changed and updated as needed. We will continue this practice, and make changes if they are necessary," Lt. Dunnam said.
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