“Yes, it’s disturbing that there may be some criminal acts committed by some officers, but there’s an even bigger price tag from this FBI investigation to this type of misconduct because of the trust that the public loses in the Baton Rouge Police department.”
BATON ROUGE — Now that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has announced an investigation into the Baton Rouge Police Department, many are interested in what happens next. What does a federal investigation into a local police department look like?
Unfiltered with Kiran spoke with former prosecutor, now turned watchdog president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Rafael Goyeneche, for insight into several questions.
FBI launches investigation into Baton Rouge PD
On September 22, 2023, in a very rare move, the FBI issued a news release saying they “have opened a federal investigation into the Baton Rouge Police Department and allegations that members of the department may have abused their authority.” (Full release below)
The release is rare on the FBI’s part because the federal agency typically does not reveal its hand and tip off subjects of an investigation. The agency generally responds by saying they cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation. However, in this case, Goyeneche says the agency is relying on the public for additional information into BRPD and its officers.
“So the press release that the FBI issued, urging the public to call them to report any other incidences of misconduct by Baton Rouge police officers with respect to people that were taken into custody by officers, that is an indication that the FBI is exploring the potential of civil rights cases & civil rights violations by the Baton Rouge Police Department,” said Goyeneche. “So this is an investigation beyond an internal affairs investigation. This is a federal civil rights investigation that we see underway right now.”
Goyeneche says the FBI does not react on a knee-jerk. Most likely, he said federal agents have been monitoring ongoings at the department for the past several months or years. Even then, after the local FBI office opts to investigate a police department, they need permission from their FBI office in D.C.
“I think they’ve opened a file. So that doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to be arrested yet, but they have rules that they have to apply by and when you’re dealing with allegations of civil rights involving any law enforcement agency, the local FBI office is usually going to have to get clearance to proceed from Washington DC on something like this,” said Goyeneche.
For over two years, Unfiltered with Kiran has been highlighting what appears to be favoritism at BRPD in a series of reports titled “Disparate Discipline.” The reports have shed light on Deputy Chief Myron Daniels allegedly abusing his authority over the Internal Affairs division at BRPD to pick and choose the investigations the department launched or shut down. Many of the reports also brought to light BRPD’s Chief Murphy Paul allegedly “weaponizing the internal affairs division” by launching investigations into certain officers who attempted to publicize the alleged disparate discipline.
Plus, in July 2022, UWK reported that several BRPD officers sent a letter to the FBI requesting the agency investigate Chief Murphy Paul. Part of that three-page letter to the New Orleans FBI’s Public Corruption Division read:
“It has come to our attention that there is an ongoing investigation into rampant police corruption within the ranks of the Street Crimes Unit of the Baton Rouge Police Department. However, due to ongoing pattern and practices and immediate conflicts of interest we believe there are serious concerns into the legitimacy of both the internal and criminal investigation necessary to remove and hold those among us that have been accused accountable for their grave actions. This letter is seeking the transparency, accountability and integrity necessary to conduct an unbiased investigation.”BRPD Officers
Then in Sept. 2023, three federal lawsuits were filed claiming BRPD has a “torture warehouse” where certain officers took people they arrested. The first suit claimed BRPD’s “torture warehouse” is where now fired BRPD Officer Troy Lawrence Jr. allegedly took an arrestee, severely beat him and then doctored a “false police report accusing the arrestee of attempting to escape.”
What does a federal investigation of a police department mean?
A federal civil rights investigation means that police officers could face jail time if they are found to have committed civil rights crimes, according to Goyeneche. He said the scope of the FBI’s investigation will go beyond the officers themselves. It’ll look at their supervisors as well and any higher-ups who may have had knowledge of any wrongdoing but turned a blind eye.
“Make no mistakes about it, what the FBI is looking at right now are criminal violations. They’re not conducting an administrative investigation. The people that are potentially culpable for this, if the FBI can document their misconduct and meet the burden of proof, they’re going to be indicted. If they had information of misconduct and then didn’t report it, that, in fact, is misconduct on their part,” he added.
In an administrative investigation, officers cannot be forced to make a statement, and even if they do make a statement, that cannot be used criminally against them. That is referred to as an officer’s Garrity Rights.
“So what’s been alleged in this particular case, that members of the street crimes unit, the brave unit, were taking detainees into this warehouse, and some people were alleging that they were brutalized by officers, is classic civil rights violations,” said Goyeneche. But he added that every arrest those officers in question made will now go under a microscope.
“Every arrest that they have made over the last several years is going to have to be scrutinized by the district attorney’s office. That information is going to have to be shared with a criminal defense bar. It’s going to question any convictions that were obtained. So implications and ramifications of this type of misconduct are virtually limitless on cases that this unit and officers assigned to this unit have made. If this type of operation is occurring in one area of the department, could it be occurring in other areas of the department? Some of the people that were previously in charge of supervising this unit, did they go someplace else within the department? Why did they not report it? So there’s more questions than we have answers right now. But usually this is an indication of some profound leadership issues, chain of command issues because officers who compose this unit are supervised, usually by sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and they’re going to be over a routine usually by a deputy chief, and then the buck stops with the chief. So Murphy Paul who has announced his intention to retire and allegedly this has been going on through a significant portion of his tenure of chief as we know right now.”
Goyeneche added the feds will also look at past officers and supervisors who were once connected to specialized units like the street crimes or brave units.
“That’s the type of misconduct that the FBI is going to be looking at, to firmly grasp. They’re just not going to stop. They’re going to follow every lead, and they’re going to look at every one that’s been at that unit and where they went after they left that unit,” he said.
Goyeneche said the FBI will most likely want to reach out to those people who were arrested in an attempt to find out if there was any misconduct on the officer’s part.
“Well, this is just the early stages of this investigation, and depending on what they find, it could be months. It could be a couple of years depending on how profound the problems are. It could be a series of potentially multiple officers arrested at different times. So these investigations, if they move at light speed, and that they’re relatively compact and small, could be six to eight months, going on to a couple of years, depending on how big the problem is and how many officers are involved and the numbers of victims that need to be interviewed,” Goyeneche explained. “Every stage of a civil rights case needs to be approved at the Washington D.C. level. So these investigations are very complicated. And they generally take a significant amount of time.”
Public’s Trust in BRPD
Public trust in a law enforcement agency and its officers plays a large role in closing cases. If people don’t trust the police, they will hesitate to speak up about anything they have witnessed. It’s why this federal investigation into the men and women who are sworn in to protect and serve is damning for public trust.
“A police department is only as effective at policing a community as the level of trust that they have from the general public. If these allegations are true, it’s an indication that a significant percentage of the people in the Baton Rouge community are distrustful of the Baton Rouge Police officers.”
The other problem that comes up, according to Goyeneche, is that the public may now paint BRPD with a broad brush.
“So if you have a few bad apples, but they’re police officers, the public cannot tell by the uniforms that they wear whether they’re good or they’re bad. So what ends up happening when you have a rogue unit or you have problems in an agency along these lines, the public doesn’t know if the police are good or bad, can be trusted or not. They just flat out elect not to be the eyes and ears that the police department needs to hold people accountable to arrest violent offenders.”
He added that every person who was allegedly abused by a BRPD officer has told their family and friends, who have also told their family and friends. That means this FBI probe into Baton Rouge Police brings further negative publicity and distrust of officers.
“That becomes a pebble in a body of water, and the ripple effects eventually cover the entire body of water. So it becomes really a challenge not just from the standpoint of identifying who’s doing this, but it affects every citizen and everybody that wears that badge because they cannot do their job because of a few bad apples that basically turned the community around in not trusting the Baton Rouge Police Department,” Goyeneche said. “Yes, it’s disturbing that there may be some criminal acts committed by some officers, but there’s an even bigger price tag to this FBI investigation type of misconduct because of the trust that the public loses in the Baton Rouge Police Department, which makes it even more difficult for the department to protect and serve the people of Baton Rouge.”
Appointing Murphy Paul’s replacement
Murphy Paul announced in July 2023 that he would be retiring from law enforcement and resigning from the Baton Rouge Police Dept. after five years leading the department. His retirement is set for November 2023.
The process to find Paul’s replacement is underway. Anyone wishing to seek the position had to put their name down and formally apply. They then had to take a chief’s test and will go through a series of interviews before East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome appoints a new police chief.
“I would hope that she’s considering people from outside the department because if the allegations are true, involving the officer misconduct, you have to question whether the senior people that would apply internally for this appointment by the mayor were aware of this and chose to do nothing? And if they weren’t aware of it, that says something about their ability to supervise and know what’s going on in this department. So before the mayor makes an appointment, I would like to think now that she’s aware that there’s a federal investigation, it’s more important to make the right hire than it is to make a quick hire. The dynamics of this appointment have totally shifted now with this press release by the FBI.”
MORE FROM UNFILTERED WITH KIRAN’S DISPARATE DISCIPLINE SERIES
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- Veteran officer alleges disparate discipline at BRPD
- BRPD officer on paid leave for a whole year while under investigation for sexual harassment
- BRPD rehires officer fired 23 years ago for sexual harassment
- BRPD Union Vice President fired after interview with UWK