BRPD chief reveals agency ‘cooperating’ with FBI amid Brave Cave probe

A pair of attorneys and other officials held a news conference on Monday, Sept. 18 to discuss new developments in the investigation of the BRPD's Brave Cave.
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 3:57 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 18, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul announced Monday that the Baton Rouge Police Department is cooperating with the FBI to investigate alleged misconduct inside of the Brave Cave.

Chief Paul says the agency considered involving a number of different agencies in the investigation but says he personally chose to go with the FBI after meeting with federal investigators during the last week of August.

He would not go into detail about the investigation but says there were some “very concerning” things that were brought to his attention. He also crediting reporting by WAFB as the catalyst for his decision to bring in federal partners. The chief made the comments in a one-on-one interview with the WAFB I-TEAM Monday after explosive new allegations have surface at the BRPD Brave Cave. The facility has now been permanently shut down and the street crimes unit has been suspended while the agency investigates.

“We probably would have never have gotten this far if it wasn’t for your story because it was your story when I first paid attention to what’s going on. I had never heard of the Brave Cave before,” said chief Paul. “I have met with our federal partners in August. I believe it was the last week of August. I went to New Orleans and met with members of the Federal Bureau of Investigations to express my concerns that were outlined in the story that you first made us aware of and some other allegations that were very concerning to me.”

The department is now facing three federal lawsuits tied to the infamous facility and alleged misconduct by former officer Troy Lawrence, Jr., whose father is one of the top-ranked officers within the department. The first one was from an encounter between the former officer and several men who he told to leave the front of a hospital back in January. Another lawsuit was filed after Jeremy Lee was arrested. Lee was allegedly beaten so badly inside the Brave Cave, once officers finally took him to be booked into jail, the jail wouldn’t take him unless he was treated at the hospital first.

The latest complaint stems from a traffic stop in June where a woman and her husband, who asked not to be identified, were pulled over along Plank Road for their window tint. Not long after, members of the street crimes unit had the couple outside the car, asking about drugs. During the search, police found a gun the woman legally owned and a dollar’s worth of marijuana inside the car, but they zeroed in on some pills they found. The woman tried repeatedly to tell them she had a prescription for the pills but the body camera video shows the officers would not listen.

There’s no law on the books in Louisiana that says people can’t mix medications as long as they can show proof that they have a prescription. While there’s no video of the rest of the encounter, the woman claims she was later taken to the Brave Cave where she was stripped naked before a female officer and forced to go through a body cavity search.

“There’s a name for when you strip search somebody without legal justification,” said law professor Thomas Frampton. “It is a sexual assault.”

Attorney Ryan Thomspon said his client is still shaken up by the experience, calling her arrest and the strip search that followed, inexcusable.

“It’s a sexual battery. That’s how we’re viewing this,” said Thompson. “There was no authority under the law to conduct a strip and subsequent body cavity search.”

WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked the chief why the officers chose not to listen when the woman tried to show them proof of her prescriptions at the traffic stop.

“Part of that investigative process is interviewing those officers,” said Chief Paul. “We’ll interview those officers to determine what those actions were and why all of these incidents happened.”

When officers did not find what they were looking for at the traffic stop, her attorney says the woman was then allowed to finally show proof of her prescriptions and allowed to leave without being charged with anything. While she wasn’t charged, some community advocates believe the officers involved should be charged.

”The mayor shutting it down is not enough,” said Gary Chambers. “Troy Lawrence Jr. and every other officer who has been involved with the illegal strip searching and beating of people in this community should be arrested. If you as the black woman mayor of this city will allow a black woman to be tortured by the police department and those officers not be jailed, why do we need you there? Election year is next year, don’t forget it.”

The chief does say they’ve held officers accountable in the past and this time will be no different if it’s found that administrative policy and criminal laws have been broken.

”Unfortunately we have had to arrest our own and you’re familiar with those arrests that we’ve made involving our officers and we will investigate this in that same manner,” said Chief Paul.

The chief believes the investigation will be wrapped up before he retires from the agency later this year.

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