THE INVESTIGATORS: Officer's election to civil service board questioned
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A Baton Rouge police officer who was found guilty of using excessive force by a federal jury now has been given the power to decide on the public's complaints against police.
Corporal Robert Moruzzi was elected to the Baton Rouge Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board more than once after the trial. The 9News Investigators learned the same board gave Cpl. Moruzzi his job back after a former police chief fired him.
One of his victims spoke to 9News about his concerns with Moruzzi's position on the board.
Brett Percle has quite the story to tell. He's about to graduate from college with a degree in criminal justice and then go to law school. His future is bright, but his journey to law school was paved by a dark experience with law enforcement.
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Nearly four years ago, Moruzzi stomped on the back of Percle's head, knocking out his front teeth. Percle says Moruzzi and other officers who raided the house he was visiting denied him medical attention and instead made fun of him, calling him "Jack-O-Lantern." Percle recounted those painful details during an interview with 9News two years later.
"As I'm sitting, choking on my teeth, the blood is literally turning into a puddle, they are sitting there playing the drums," Percle said.
Percle was never arrested or charged with anything. Percle took Moruzzi, BRPD, and the East Baton Rouge City-Parish to federal court. The jury found Moruzzi liable of using excessive force during that raid and ordered the city-parish to pay Percle $25,000. The attorney's fees and court costs, footed by the taxpayers, reached over $75,000.
"I personally feel like I had my day in court and I won the case," Percle said.
This was not the first time Cpl. Moruzzi was accused of using excessive force. In 2008, he was reportedly off duty at a bar in downtown Baton Rouge when he got drunk, tore down a sign, and repeatedly punched the bar owner. The police chief at the time, Jeff LeDuff, fired him. But the civil service board overturned that action and instead gave Moruzzi a 90-day suspension.
Fast forward two years. Moruzzi is now one of five members of the same board that gave him his job back.
"I mean, this reminds me of the same Robert Moruzzi we saw at the trial smacking gum, making faces, 'Like this is all a game, I can do whatever.' I really don't understand how this is able to happen," Percle said.
Moruzzi's election to the board was not a move by the police chief. He was elected twice, once in June of 2015 and again in 2017 by his peers. The Office of State Examiner, which advises civil service boards, recommends to local police chiefs that board elections should be conducted much like political elections. Civil service board election results obtained by the 9News Investigators show Moruzzi did win the majority of the votes both times. Regardless, Percle's former trial attorney, Kearney Loughlin, says Moruzzi has no business in that role.
"That person should not be evaluating the conduct of other officers. My concern is that nothing's changed, that complaints are not going to be taken seriously, that complaints are just going to be swept under the rug," Loughlin said.
The 9News Investigators went to a recent civil service meeting to talk to Cpl. Moruzzi about his position on the board.
WAFB 9News reporter, Cheryl Mercedes, asked him, "Why do you feel you qualify to be a part of a board that decides whether or not an officers who uses excessive force should keep his job?"
"Because my peers and the department elected me to do so," Moruzzi said.
Moruzzi added just because a jury found him guilty of excessive force does not mean they were right. He instead blames his victim.
Mercedes asked Moruzzi, "What would you like to say to the community who has to foot the bill for that [judgment]?"
"Absolutely an injustice. I blame Brett Percle for that," Moruzzi said.
"It's unfathomable that in this state that could happen. There needs to be some type of review," Percle said.
The 9News Investigators checked Cpl. Moruzzi's personnel file. Since the trial, he has been awarded a Medal of Merit for helping his fellow officers who were responding to an active shooter situation. He was also recognized by the Zachary Police Department for stopping to help officers and render aid to civilians during a traffic fatality.
But Loughlin and Percle are not convinced Moruzzi has changed. They say it calls into question the culture of the police department and those who lead it.
"If he is the standard, the leader, the person to be making these decisions, what does this say about the rest of the Baton Rouge Police community? It's bound to repeat itself. He's bound to do this again," Percle said.
The 9News Investigators asked the recently appointed BRPD Chief Murphy Paul for an interview about this story. He declined. The State Examiner says if someone wanted to challenge Moruzzi's election to the board, they would likely have to take it to court.
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