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Baton Rouge police are under investigation for 'brave cave' tactics

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The police department in Baton Rouge, La., has temporarily disbanded its Street Crimes Unit as it faces multiple allegations of brutality.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Several lawsuits allege that civil rights violations took place in an unmarked warehouse police officers used as an interrogation center. They're accused of beating people. The FBI appears to be getting involved in the investigation.

MARTÍNEZ: Aubry Procell with member station WRKF in Baton Rouge has been following the story. He's here to tell us more. Aubry, so that unmarked warehouse that's been dubbed the Brave Cave - how else is it being described?

AUBRY PROCELL, BYLINE: Well, civil rights attorneys are calling it a torture warehouse and a black site and said it was used because of its low profile and lack of cameras. We first learned about the Brave Cave's existence in late August after a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jeremy Lee. The suit says he was beaten at the site by members of the Street Crimes Unit. There's no footage of Lee being beaten, but police body camera footage does show Lee sitting in a wooden chair with his hands bound in this nearly empty warehouse. One official in the mayor's office told me it was a pretty disturbing image. Lee's attorney said he was beaten so badly that the Parish Prison refused to take custody of him until he'd received medical attention at a hospital first. There, they found he had a cracked rib and abrasions to his head. One officer involved resigned shortly after the news broke about this first lawsuit. He's the son of a deputy chief.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. And now since these revelations and this first lawsuit, a woman filed another one this week. What does that lawsuit say?

PROCELL: That one was filed on behalf of Ternell Brown. She was arrested in June after officers found a gun and a bottle of medication in her car. Now, she had a prescription, according to her attorney, and she even tried to show it to the officers. But instead, she was taken to this Brave Cave. There, she was allegedly illegally strip-searched and her body cavities examined with a flashlight. She was eventually released with no criminal charges. And then when she tried to file a complaint with the police department, she says she was turned away. Now, Brown's attorney said they're approaching the situation as a sexual battery.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, how did officials respond to these lawsuits and the revelations of this unauthorized interrogation space?

PROCELL: Well, Chief of Police Murphy Paul and Mayor Sharon Weston Broome seemed to be caught by surprise when the news broke. Shortly afterwards, the mayor appeared on our local talk show "Louisiana Considered."

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "LOUISIANA CONSIDERED")

SHARON WESTON BROOME: Well, of course I was appalled to hear what was being alleged to take place there at that facility. And as a result of our initial review and based on information that I received from Chief Paul, I decided to permanently close the facility.

PROCELL: Also, the Street Crimes Unit that was using the warehouse has been disbanded while the investigation is underway, with two officers put on administrative leave just this week.

MARTÍNEZ: And how did the FBI get involved with this?

PROCELL: Mayor Broome announced that at a press conference this week. That's new. Chief Paul said that he asked the FBI for help and said his department would cooperate with any federal investigation. But a spokesperson with the FBI office in New Orleans was more vague. They didn't confirm or deny that the agency was investigating.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Aubry Procell with member station WRKF in Baton Rouge. Thank you very much.

PROCELL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Aubry Procell

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