Lake Charles Police Chief speaks on May 2017 police pursuit that led former officers to plead guilty to excessive force charges

Updated: Aug. 28, 2019 at 10:50 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Lake Charles Police Chief Shawn Caldwell sat down with 7 News to discuss the May 2017 police pursuit that lead to two former LCPD officers to plead guilty to excessive force charges in federal court.

When asked how he would have handled the incident if it had happened now, Chief Caldwell, a Deputy Chief over Operations during the time of the incident, said he would have done things differently.

“If that were to happen today, I would have moved to terminate Hammac," Caldwell said. "The other officers would have been subject to an internal investigation as well. We at the police department, I believe we had tunnel vision on Hammac and we saw the wrong that he did and we reported it to the FBI and I guess in that tunnel vision, we missed things. We made mistakes.”

Caldwell, the Chief Deputy over Operations at the time of the May 2017 incident, said when he first saw the video, he immediately went to then-Police Chief Don Dixon.

“I saw that video and saw that it was not pretty," Caldwell said. “I came and told Chief Dixon and he agreed that we needed to launch an internal investigation into that matter.”

The defendant of an excessive force case, Robert Hammac resigned from Lake Charles Police six months after that May 2017 arrest. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to one felony count of deprivation of rights under color of law.

View dash cam footage here.

Last Thursday Jared Hebert resigned and also to pleaded guilty this week to one misdemeanor count of deprivation of rights under color of law.

Chief Shawn Caldwell says the actions of the officers in the video were not consistent with the training they receive at the department.

“We should have, from a position of cover, ordered that driver out to us, to call them out to us, and I don’t believe any of this would have happened.” Caldwell said. “Every officer here has been, the tactics with regards to pursuit has been reinforced to everyone here at the police department. I have done that personally. In light of this event.”

Caldwell says that reinforcement took place fall of last year.

Several of the officers involved in the May 2017 police pursuit and arrest have been named in civil lawsuits. We asked Caldwell if he took those into consideration when letting those officers continue to work in the field.

“If in those civil lawsuits there is something that shows that these officers violated policies or procedures we would launch an investigation if we deemed that they did and if we deemed that those actions require them to be removed from the field, then we will do so.” Caldwell said.

He says after recent events, LCPD is re-evaluating their hiring and screening process.

“There is one thing we have done,” Caldwell said. “We are now using a different psychological screening company that our candidates actually have face time with a doctor so that doctor can assess them.”

He says there are options for those already hired by the department as well.

“We do have a program,” Caldwell said. “We do have counselors available and doctors of psychology available that I can have employees see to assess them to see if they are fit for duty.”

Chief Caldwell says he wants to make it clear the actions of officers during the May 2017 police pursuit and arrest is not how he wants his officers to act.

“The men and women of the police department, they are not happy with this incident either," Caldwell said. "This is not how they want to be viewed. They work very hard for the citizens of Lake Charles and they do great things from buying a kid a bicycle who’s bicycle went amiss to maybe pulling someone from a fiery house. This is not how they want to be viewed. They are going to continue to work hard for everyone and I want to reassure the public that is what we are going to do.”

View 7News’ entire interview with LCPD Chief Shawn Caldwell below.

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