New Mexico State Police, aiding overwhelmed police forces in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, said in a 2005 memo that police in Baton Rouge were involved in racially-biased policing.
Baton Rouge police recently killed Alton Sterling while he was held down by two officers. Video of the shooting, which showed an officer shooting Sterling in the chest, and another shooting in Minnesota prompted protests throughout the country, including Baton Rouge.
Eleven police officers were shot, five fatally, after a protest in Dallas by a man who police said criticized Black Lives Matter as well as police.
Police in Baton Rouge face increased scrutiny for the handling of the shooting of Sterling and the resulting protests. The Washington Post wrote Sunday evening that some worried it would turn into the “next Ferguson — another medium-size U.S. city with a predominantly black population and a predominantly white police force ill-equipped or unwilling to respond to the grievances of black Americans, or deal with protests for better rights.”
The problems echo what New Mexico State Police said they saw eleven years ago. When Louisiana police asked for help from other departments, 21 New Mexico State Police troopers were eventually sent to Baton Rouge.
The problems the officers saw immediately became evident.
After the first day of patrols, New Mexico officers began complaining to their commanding officer, Major Daniel Lopez, who heads the State Police’s Criminal Investigations Division out of Santa Fe, that Baton Rouge police were abusing their power. The complaints included reports that the local cops were hitting suspects in handcuffs, tasing people who were neither suspects nor detained and destroying personal property-cars in particular.
The full document from New Mexico State Police to the Baton Rouge Police Department is embedded below.
The now-shuttered New Mexico Independent also reported on the complaints; the story is no longer available online.
The story quoted from the document.
“Officer King is a good officer but does seem to handle black people differently than he would a pretty Caucasian woman,” officer Gregory A. Hall wrote in his report. “Each time Officer King would make contact with a Caucasian person he would be friendly and pleasant. But when he spoke with a black person he was very loud, rude and demeaning.”
“‘As long as they want us to harrass [sic] these people and run them out of town, I will gladly do it,”‘ Hall quoted a Baton Rouge police officer later in his report.
Hall went on to describe the beating of a teenage black male by the police officers who “had no probable cause to stop, was illegally searched and had nothing in his possession that was illegal,” and described another officer’s comment later that night that he didn’t like “what the Captain is making us do.” The officer told Hall that he does it “the best I can and still sleep at night,” but that he really hated what the officer earlier that night “did with that kid.”
Just two days after New Mexico State Police were assigned to Baton Rouge, they asked to be pulled out and were reassigned to New Orleans.
Police from Michigan reported more complaints.
A Michigan State Police trooper said he was told by Baton Rouge police he could “beat someone down or bitch slap them” as a “gift from them for helping with the hurricane relief efforts.”
Joe Leduff, the then-Baton Rouge police chief, later accused the New Mexico and Michigan police of lying, the Associated Press reported in 2008. This came following an internal investigation. After the investigation, the AP reported, “one officer had been suspended without pay for three days, one was reprimanded and three others were to be counseled by supervisors.”
“Everybody who came here wanted to be in New Orleans where all of this was going on, to rescue, to stop the looting, to stop the people from shooting at helicopters,” Leduff said according to the AP said. “I don’t think people wanted to come to Baton Rouge. We weren’t the story.”
New Orleans Times-Picayune deputy opinions editor Jarvis DeBerry used the complaints from New Mexico and Michigan police to contextualize the strained relationship between police and black residents in Baton Rouge.
“So that’s what we’re dealing with,” DeBerry wrote, “A police department whose behavior worried other law enforcement officials and whose leadership has been more defensive than responsive to the claims of racist policing.”