Dash cam video released in federal case against former LCPD officer

Published: Aug. 26, 2019 at 11:56 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2019 at 11:57 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The Lake Charles Police Department has released dash cam footage of a May 2017 incident involving a former LCPD officer who pleaded guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law in federal court.

According to the offense report, at around 4:35 a.m. on May 8, 2017 the driver was traveling on I-10 eastbound in the middle lane, when he ‘began to suddenly switch lanes from the middle lane to the outside lane of travel Pfc. [Robert] Hammac had to quickly exit the lane of travel and start entering the emergency shoulder of the roadway to keep from being struck by the vehicle’.

LCPD officers attempted to pull over the driver; they exited on Fruge Street, but the driver ‘passed up several areas of the interstate shoulder and business parking lots to bring his vehicle to a stop’. The report goes on to say the driver ‘refused to stop for officers’ as an LCPD officer ‘called out the traffic stop’ and told dispatch the driver ‘was refusing to stop for officers’.

The report states the driver got back on to I-10 eastbound from Beldon St. The driver led officers on a police pursuit down to the I-10/210 interchange where the driver ‘began picking up speed, where he would rapidly change lanes to try and get away from the officers. When the police pursuit hit I-210, the report states the driver ‘and officers reached speeds of approximately 114 miles per hour’. The driver exited 210 at Legion Street, where the report states ‘he struck a raised concrete curb on the exit ramp. Due to the speed and impact, the front driver side tire blew out’. The report goes on to say the driver ‘appeared to be losing control of his vehicle where he struck a Nissan Armada’.

The driver then re-entered I-210, leading authorities back on to I-10. According to the offense report, Hammac was instructed to ‘when safe’, pass the driver ‘and set up to deploy his spike strips’. The report goes on to say Hammac ‘stopped his fully marked patrol Tahoe at Exit 36 [Creole exit], where he was able to safely deploy his spike strips’. Officers ‘noticed the driver side rear and both passenger side tires began losing air, slowing the vehicle down’ but the driver ‘was not going to stop for officers’.

The report states officers attempted a pit maneuver 4 times before the 5th pit maneuver was successful. The driver’s car spun out, but the report states the driver did not stop until ‘he went head-on with Pfc. Hammac and struck Pfc Hammac head-on, causing a two vehicle crash’ which ended the police pursuit.

Several officers exited their vehicles, including Hammac, and surrounded the car, attempting to pull the driver out. In dash cam footage, Hammac can be seen entering the passenger side of the car, pulling the driver towards him, repeatedly punching him. The report states ‘Pfc. Hammac began giving several closed fist strikes, trying to also break the suspects grasp from the steering wheel’. The driver was then placed under arrest.The report states the police pursuit lasted around 9 minutes and went approximately 12 miles.

In a letter of disciplinary action to Hammac, Mayor Nic Hunter and former LCPD Police Chief Don Dixon state Hammac ‘delivered several strikes to the suspect in a “hard empty hand control” method. You [Hammac] advised in your statement that this was done to protect fellow officers from the suspect fleeing again and possibly striking an officer with his vehicle. The investigation revealed that was not probable. The strikes you delivered to the suspect were not consistent with training provided by the Lake Charles Police Department and were deemed not be “reasonable and necessary” according to the Lake Charles Police Department’s Training Division and an Internal Affairs investigation’.

The letter goes on to state that ‘Chief Dixon directed that, for this violation, you are hereby suspended for ten (10) days and ordered to attend the employee assistance program (anger management)’.

While the Lake Charles Police Department declined an on-camera interview, Police Chief Shawn Caldwell released a video statement online where he called the dash cam footage ‘disturbing’ and said the police department made ‘some errors’.

“We made mistakes," Caldwell said. “What we should have done was from a position of cover, ordered that driver out of the vehicle and I don’t believe any of this would have happened. We are taking steps. We are retraining and doing several things to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Some of those absolutely are police pursuit tactics to reinforce the proper way for us to address when a pursuit ends. We have also identified and had some of our defensive tactics instructor identify other techniques for physical encounters. We have revamped our command structure. It allows me to put stronger, more qualified leadership out on the street.”

LCPD says Robert Hammac ‘was the only LCPD employee disciplined as a result of the pursuit and arrest on May 8, 2017′.

Lake Charles Police state following Hammac’s suspension for the excessive force incident, but while he was still out on mandatory leave, LCPD learned of two other complaints. The police department stated ‘Although no injury or harm resulted, the complaints were investigated and Mr. Hammac was determined to have not followed the proper procedure when discharging a pepper ball gun’.

According to documents provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, one of those incidents happened in December, 2016 when Hammac shot a pepper ball gun at a homeless person several times and laughed.

LCPD states, “Knowledge of these three incidents and the results of the internal investigations resulted in a recommendation that Mr. Hammac be terminated. Mr. Hammac resigned from the department prior to termination, and he was recorded as ineligible for rehire by the LCPD Internal Affairs Division".

Lake Charles Police say he instead resigned in November, 2017 before he could be terminated.

Since his resignation, 7News has learned of two civil suits where Hammac is named a defendant regarding his alleged actions while on duty with the Lake Charles Police Department. 7News is told those cases are pending. Those incidents are separate from the pepper ball gun incidents LCPD state they learned of following Hammac’s suspension.

Hammac pleaded guilty August 15 to to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law for the May 2017 incident. He faces a maximum term of 10 years and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced by U.S. Judge James D. Cain Jr. on Nov. 14.

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