FBI launches probe into Baton Rouge Police Department over abuse allegations

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(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Federal authorities are investigating the Baton Rouge Police Department following allegations that some officers “abused their authority,” the FBI announced.

The investigation comes as the police department faces several recent lawsuits over the treatment of detainees, including at a now-shuttered police warehouse that officers allegedly called the “brave cave,” according to the complaints.

The New Orleans FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened the probe, with investigators “reviewing the matter for potential federal violations,” the FBI New Orleans said in a statement on Friday, while urging anyone with information on the case to contact them.

The announcement comes in the wake of multiple federal lawsuits filed against the Baton Rouge Police Department and the city of Baton Rouge in the past month.

In a statement to ABC News, the Baton Rouge Police Department said they are “committed to addressing these troubling accusations and have initiated administrative and criminal investigations. Chief Paul met with FBI officials and requested their assistance to ensure an independent review of these complaints. The Narcotics Processing Facility has been permanently closed and the Street Crimes Unit has been disbanded and reassigned.”

“In light of the serious allegations, we reached out to the FBI to conduct an unbiased, external investigation. Additionally, we immediately shut down the facility known as the brave cave and disbanded the street crimes unit. BRPD is also conducting its own criminal and administrative investigations,” Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome, who ordered the facility be shut down upon learning of its existence, said to ABC News in a statement.

“We are committed to getting to the bottom of what happened at this facility. Most importantly, we are committed to justice. We have created an online portal at brpd.com where anyone with relevant information or similar experiences can submit a complaint,” the statement added.

The most recent lawsuit, filed on Monday, alleges that officers “sexually humiliated” Ternell Brown, a Baton Rouge grandmother who was stopped on suspicion of criminal wrongdoing while carrying prescription pills, according to the lawsuit.

Officers allegedly refused to examine the prescriptions that Brown says proved she was entitled to carry the medication. Instead, Brown was humiliated during an examination at the so-called brave cave — a warehouse used by the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit — on June 10 and then released without charge, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint from Brown is seeking unspecified damages for multiple alleged violations, including unreasonable search, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.

Another federal lawsuit filed last month alleges unlawful conduct at the warehouse. The complaint, filed on behalf of Jeremy Lee, claims Lee suffered a fractured rib after officers beat him on Jan. 9. Lee was not charged with any criminal wrongdoing that led to his detainment, but resisting an officer, according to the complaint, which is seeking unspecified damages for alleged violations including excessive force, unreasonable search and retaliation.

A third federal lawsuit, filed last month, also alleges excessive force and retaliation violations stemming from an altercation with Baton Rouge officers outside a hospital on Oct. 8, 2022. The lawsuit claims that two of the plaintiffs were falsely arrested, with their charges later being dismissed.

Following the filing of Lee’s lawsuit, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome announced that the warehouse will be permanently closed and the police department’s Street Crimes Unit disbanded.

“The severity of these allegations deeply concerns me, especially given the potential impact on the trust our community places in us — a trust we’ve worked tirelessly to establish and maintain during my administration,” Mayor Broome said in a statement.

The Baton Rouge Police Department is also investigating the allegations of abuse, Chief Murphy Paul said at a press briefing in late August.

ABC News did not immediately receive a response from the Baton Rouge Police Department to a message seeking comment on the FBI probe and lawsuits. The East Baton Rouge Parish Attorney’s Office told ABC News they do not comment on pending litigation.

A Baton Rouge police officer who was named as a defendant in the three federal lawsuits — Troy Lawrence Jr. — resigned last month in the wake of Lee’s lawsuit. On Wednesday, he was arrested on a misdemeanor battery charge for an unrelated incident that occurred on Aug. 8, police said.

“Baton Rouge Police Detectives reviewed departmental body camera footage that showed a handcuffed subject, as he sat in the rear seat of the patrol car, being drive stunned by Lawrence with a taser before giving the subject an opportunity to comply to verbal commands,” the department said in a statement.

ABC News was unable to reach Lee for comment. It is unclear if he has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.

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