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Baton Rouge mayor, police chief defends targeting of Katrina 'thugs'

By Jesse Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Apr 9, 2010 - 3:07:44 PM

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( - Amid the ongoing federal investigation into the actions of the New Orleans Police Department during Hurricane Katrina, Baton Rouge, La., is now on the radar for alleged harassment of Blacks seeking to escape the flood waters.

Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin "Kip" Holden
In reports released by the Baton Rouge Police Department, statements made by state troopers from New Mexico and Michigan accuse Baton Rouge officers of discrimination, illegal searches and using unnecessary force towards Blacks in the days following Katrina.

The out-of-state troopers were called in to assist with patrolling in September 2005 and after being pulled from duty wrote letters complaining that Baton Rouge officers were under direct orders to “make life rough” for New Orleanians seeking refuge in the city.

Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden, who is Black, is publicly defending the actions of the officers.

“I was not going to let Baton Rouge be overrun by some people from New Orleans who were hell-bent on committing crimes,” Mayor Holden said according to The Advocate.

“If there's a blame to be placed on aggressive enforcement, blame it on me,” he insisted.

The mayor further declared that his overall plan for those he labeled as “thugs” was for them to have shelter in “a jail and not at the Red Cross.”

According to incident reports first obtained by the Baton Rouge-based Advocate newspaper, New Mexico troopers complained of unnecessary harsh treatment of prisoners, the use of inappropriate language, including calling Blacks “animals who needed to be beaten down.” One Baton Rouge officer is quoted as stating, “I don't agree with it, but as long as my Captain tells us to harass these people—I'll do my job.”

Nation of Islam student Minister Willie Muhammad of New Orleans and his family lived in Baton Rouge for nearly a year after Katrina and he heard the complaints of members of the Black community.

“This so-called aggressive policing was the mayor's way of making sure he protected the interests and eased the fears of his White constituency who voted him in. Since he is willing to take the blame, I hope he does not run when the lawsuits start coming in as well,” said Mr. Muhammad to The Final Call.

BatonRougePolice Chief Jeff LeDuff denies giving orders to run evacuees out of town but is defending the actions.

“We had a charge to hold the line and balance this city and keep it from being overrun and looted and fired upon,” said Chief LeDuff to The Advocate.

“This is a shame that two Black officials are pretty much justifying these corrupted orders given to harass us during Katrina,” said Linda Washington, who evacuated from New Orleans during Katrina and now resides in Houston.

“I heard many people complaining about the aggressiveness of the police. But it was the same when I got here to Houston. It was almost as if there was a nationwide mandate to treat us like animals,” said Ms. Washington.

Despite investigating these accusations, the Baton Rouge Police Dept. boldly refused to release the documents linked to a probe by Internal Affairs Dept. The Advocate sued for the documents in the summer of 2006 and in May 2009 the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. The documents were released in February and include multiple pages of reports from New Mexico and Michigan troopers about their experiences while on-duty with Baton Rouge officers.

In a September 2005 letter to Baton Rouge police officials, New Mexico state police Major Daniel Lopez outlined concerns from 12 troopers from his state and Michigan. Those concerns included illegal searches, unnecessary tazing, and racially motivated tactics.

In a correspondence, New Mexico trooper Gregory Hall reported that each time Baton Rouge officer Chad King would make contact with a Caucasian person “he would be friendly and pleasant but when he spoke to a Black person he was very loud, rude and demeaning.”

New Mexico state police agent Nathan Lucero wrote that Baton Rouge officers began to tell him how they had gone into Black neighborhoods and had “beaten them down since the Hurricane had happened.”

“I was told that I could go ahead and beat someone down or b—tch slap them … I was told this was my gift from them for helping with the hurricane relief efforts,” reported one Michigan officer.

Months later in January 2006 theBatonRougepolice department reprimanded one officer, suspended another officer without pay for three days and recommended three others take counseling.

“When you are dealing with a situation of that magnitude you have to try to use your best judgment,” said Mayor Holden. “Maybe in some of the cases the best judgment was an error.”

“The sad thing is that even the exposure of this misconduct by other members of the law enforcement family will not silence the deceptive intelligence of the mayor and the chief as theyattempt to justify these criminal actions of those under their charge,” said Mr. Muhammad.

Related news:

Second ex-cop pleads guilty to covering up deadly New Orleans shooting (FCN, 03-24-2010)

A victory for Katrina flood survivors? (FCN, 11-25-2009)