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Two reports, damning video of police abuse and Hammond City Council still can’t make decision on chief after 4 years


Two reports, damning video of police abuse and Hammond City Council still can’t make decision on chief after 4 years

How long does it take for a political body to make a decision on something as obvious as the VIDEO first aired by Baton Rouge TV station WBRZ and then on LOUISIANA VOICE  on Aug. 13, 2020 that clearly shows Hammond police officers hit, kick and tase a handcuffed prisoner who appeared to commit no more serious offense than reaching for a bottle of pills?

It all started back on Dec. 6, 2017, when Kentdrick Ratliff, 38, was arrested for the crime of blocking a sidewalk with his vehicle, certainly reason enough to consider him a threat to humanity. There remains a dispute as to whether or not he gave officers permission to search his car. Police say he gave consent, he says he did not.

But be that as it may, in the booking room he was handcuffed and seated at a desk. Officers had apparently either removed a couple of bottles of pills from his person or from his car (it’s unclear whether or not they were prescription medications). At one point, he reached for one of the bottles and that’s when officers, including Sgt. Edwin Bergeron pounced.

Officers can be seen on the video kicking Ratliff in the head while another officer kept his boot on the prisoner’s neck and another kneeled on his body. One officer, Sgt. Thomas Mushinsky took the opportunity to deliver a swift kick to what Ratliff later said was the most vulnerable area of a man’s body. Officers claim the kick was to his leg. But does it really matter? Kicking a handcuffed prisoner, weighing all of 154 pounds and who was offering no resistance, anywhere would appear to be somewhat excessive.

In fact, that’s just how an investigator hired by the city described that and other attacks on Ratliff’s person. More about that later.

For years, Ratliff’s attorney Ravi Shah, and the district attorney’s office were told that no video of the incident existed. If that sounds a bit familiar, I refer you to the story of Ronald Greene, killed by state troopers out of Monroe’s Troop F in May 2019. State Police also said there was no video of that incident. Both claims turned out to be lies when video of both attacks later surfaced.

WBRZ’s Chris Nakamoto provided LouisianaVoice with a copy of a report done by Use of Force Consultants of McKinney, Texas, that said Mushinsky’s kick was a “trained distraction technique,” adding that the force employed by Bergeron and another officer was “excessive and borderline criminal.”

The ARREST REPORT of the Hammond Police Department is almost comical were the offenses of police officers not so brutal. The report was initially arrested for obstructing a public passage, a 14:100 in Barney Fife parlance. Then, after his vehicle was searched (with or without his consent), he was charged with possession of a schedule IV drug with intent to distribute (40:969A) and possession of a schedule I drug (40:968), four counts of resisting a police officer with force or violence (the dreaded 14:108), though there’s little evidence to support those charges in the video. Then officers tacked on a charge of obstruction of justice by tampering with evidence (that’s a 14:130), parking the wrong way (14:143), and possession of legend drugs (40.971H), simple escape, aggravated escape (14:110), disarming of a police officer (14:34, and criminal damage to property (14.56).

Nowhere in the video does it show Ratliff “disarming” an officer, being guilty of “simple” or “aggravated” escape of any description and the only damage to property came when officers pinned him down and pummeled him. All property damage was inflicted by overzealous cops eager to get their punches in.

But the video and the report of Use of Force Consultants wasn’t enough for the Hammond City Council or Mayor Pete Panepinto who, during the interim, promoted Bergeron from sergeant to chief of police. So, Seth Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law and in the university’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was retained to do yet another report.

Stoughton present his 158-page report to the council yesterday and the results did nothing to absolve officers of any blame for excessive uses of force.

Stoughton listed 10 separate uses of force and described them as either unreasonable, excessively unreasonable, or excessively egregious. He specifically described officer Craig Dunn’s kicking and stomping Ratliff while he was on the floor as “among the most abusive uses of force I’ve seen in…I don’t know how many cases.”

He noted that the video showed “several officers standing around” during the tag-team beating of Ratliff. “The department has no intervention policy. I would strongly recommend that such a policy be adopted.”

Following Stoughton’s presentation, council member Kip Andrews offered to add an agenda item calling for Panepinto to fire Bergeron but because the addition of agenda items requires a unanimous vote, his motion failed when it was opposed by Carlee White. White said she and the other council members had just received Stoughton’s report and she believed more time was needed to digest its contents before making a decision.

Well, it’s only been since December of 2017 that Ratliff was assaulted by Hammond police, so what’s another month or so?

Meanwhile, Bergeron keep drawing a paycheck.

And watch where you park your car there to be sure you don’t block a sidewalk.

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