‘Most Abusive Uses of Force I’ve Seen’: Expert from Derek Chauvin Trial Reviews 2017 Video of Beating Inside Louisiana Police Station; Calls Mount for Police Chief’s Firing

After the release of a new report, a police chief’s actions during the booking of a Black man are called “egregiously unreasonable” and “excessive” and Louisiana community stakeholders are calling for his immediate termination.

Hammond, Louisiana, city officials want Police Chief Edwin Bergeron, who is white, to be fired from his job as top cop.

Police Chief Edwin Bergeron (left), Video screengrab showing officers apprehending Black man

On Tuesday, Jan. 25, the law enforcement executive was identified in a 158-page report as one of several officers that punched, kicked, and choked a handcuffed Black man while he sat in a booking room after being arrested.

Hammond City Council commissioned the report, placing police procedure expert Seth Stoughton in charge of the investigation — one that would unpack the video of the arrest, and booking of Kentdrick Ratliff to determine if any member of the Hammond Police Department violated the city’s use of force policies.

On Dec. 6, 2017, Ratliff was detained for parking on a sidewalk and obstructing public passage. He was later charged with possession of a schedule IV drug with intent to distribute, possession of a schedule I drug and four counts of resisting a police officer with force or violence, the report notes. 

According to the police report of the day, the then-38-year-old suspect had a pill bottle containing 2 grams of marijuana, 2 milligrams of Xanax, and a non-narcotic medication for shingles on his person.

The officers later charged him with obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence, parking the wrong way, possession of legend drugs, simple escape, aggravated escape. disarming of a police officer, and criminal damage to property, the Louisiana Voice reports.

Stoughton’s report further revealed 10 different acts of force that the police officers perpetrated against the suspect while he was in their custody. A video previously leaked to the public and used for the investigation showed that two of those acts were found to be “unreasonable and excessive” and four were ruled as “egregiously unreasonable and excessive.”

Stoughton, who served as an expert for both Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter’s trials, detailed how the officers used wrist locks and various types of chokeholds to restrain Ratliff. 

His report showed how officers rushed into the room where 154-pound Ratliff was being held and participated in his beating that began when he reached for a prescription bottle on the counter in front of him as he was seated during the booking process at the police station.

While reviewing a portion of the aforementioned footage, Stoughton discussed a clip of one officer named Craig Dunn repeatedly stomping on a shackled Ratliff’s face and kicking him in the groin while he was inside of the interrogation room. As this happened, one officer used his tactical boot to stand on Ratliff’s neck, while another kneed on his body. The expert remarked, “This is among the most abusive uses of force I’ve seen in reviewing … I can’t even tell you how many cases.”

In addition to being kicked, the footage showed Ratliff being punched and tasered by the cops, despite no Taser report being filed after the incident. Among those brutally beating the man was Bergeron, who was then only a sergeant within the department. 

The video, captured two years before he became police chief, showed Bergeron at one point punching Ratliff over and over again. 

However, when the footage was first leaked, Bergeron was not shown. The only clip circulated on social media was 30 seconds and it showed Ratliff as an aggressor, lunging across the booking counter, attempting to seize two bottles of pills, and two officers responding to his abrupt movements by tackling him to the ground.

The narrative about Bergeron started to change in 2020 when the news outlet WBRZ released a full 12-minute surveillance video of the arrest.

Public outcry called for Bergeron’s firing. Several members of the City Council joined the chorus, asking the mayor, Pete Panepinto, to excuse him from his title and responsibilities as chief. The mayor declined the request.

After Panepinto’s refusal, the council unanimously voted to invite an independent expert to review the arrest footage and determine if the use of force, in this case, as appropriate. 

The group then hired the University of South Carolina’s Professor of Law and Professor (Affiliate) of Criminology and Criminal Justice to conduct the investigation through a law firm in Baton Rouge. 

Upon the completion of his presentation of his findings, Councilman Devon Wells asked the mayor about the employment status of the officers identified in the video. When the mayor said they were still active-duty officers in the police force, Wells said that fact “brings tears to me.”

“We actually have a real problem here. For myself, being a Black male, I’m scared,” he continued.

Wells called for two resolutions to be added to the Council’s agenda: a petition for assistance from the FBI, the Louisiana State Police, and the Louisiana Attorney General to further review Stoughton’s findings and that Bergeron be fired.

Neither of the resolutions passed. One member of the Council, Carlee White, said that she and other Council members needed more time to digest the report and voted against them. In order to add a resolution to the agenda, the council must be in unanimous agreement. 

Councilman Sam Vittorio, who is a white man, did not understand what more his colleagues needed to review, especially after hearing Ratliff scream during his beatings.

He said, “Watching that video, there shouldn’t be much else to see. Those awful sounds the guy made, it doesn’t get any more clear than that. And then to promote a guy in the administration … it’s very sad to know that.”

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