Lawsuit accuses Louisiana police of assault in ‘torture warehouse’

Police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, are being sued after being accused of beating a grandmother in a so-called “torture warehouse,” a new lawsuit alleges.

Baton Rouge resident Ternell Brown was detained in June; but rather than taking her to the police station, Baton Rouge police officers drove her to an unmarked warehouse, according to a 18 September lawsuit she filed.

Officers referred to this facility as the “Brave Cave,” where the street crimes unit held people in custody, assaulted them, and conducted strip and body-cavity searches on them, the lawsuit claimed.

Police officers wrongfully informed Ms Brown that it was illegal to have different prescription medicines in the same pill container, according to the complaint.

Ms Brown, 51, was allegedly arrested on suspicion of illegal drug activity – after officers discovered a legal prescription medication in her car during a traffic stop. She was taken to the warehouse and held there for two hours, the filing states.

There, officers “forced her to spread her vagina and buttocks for inspection and examined her vagina using a flashlight,” despite not having a warrant, probable cause, or consent to conduct a strip or body cavity search, the suit states.

After a couple of hours, Ms Brown was released without charge.

“Brave Cave” (Ternell Brown v Baton Rouge Police Department)
“Brave Cave” (Ternell Brown v Baton Rouge Police Department)

The 51-year-old isn’t the first one to flag the “Brave Cave.” Jeremy Lee, a Baton Rouge resident, was arrested in January, and police took him to the warehouse, which one officer called the “Brave Cave,” WAFB previously reported.

Bodycam footage captured Mr Lee sitting in a wooden chair in what appeared to be a warehouse. There, the 22-year-old was punched and kicked – although that happened off-camera, the outlet noted.

After the incident, Mr Lee “was so badly beaten that authorities at East Baton Rouge Parish Prison refused to accept him” into its custody, “insisting that Mr Lee be taken to the hospital,” according to a lawsuit he filed. He was treated for broken ribs and other injuries.

After the incident, Mr Lee filed a lawsuit; in August, the city’s mayor ordered the facility’s operations to be suspended “in light of the serious allegations.” The FBI is now investigating the claims, and an officer involved in Mr Lee’s alleged “Brave Cave” assault have resigned.

An attorney for Ms Brown called out Police Chief Murphy Paul at a Monday press conference. “Chief Murphy Paul, instead of bringing BRPD policy in compliance with the constitution, decided to double down and endorse what his officers were doing and to insist that the illegal strip search policy that BRPD maintains was appropriate,” said Thomas Frampton. As a result of the chief’s decision, Mr Frampton said, “countless Baton Rouge citizens have been subject to illegal, sexually humiliating strip searches.”

Chief Paul was interviewed by the Washington Post, although he declined to comment on the pending lawsuits, adding that an internal investigation is underway.

He did, however, address the “Brave Cave” at a news conference last month, explaining that it was a narcotics processing facility owned by the parish that had been used by the police department for “approximately 20 years.” However, up until Mr Lee’s lawsuit came out, he was unaware of the term “Brave Cave,” he said.

“We made a mistake on this one,” Mr Paul told the Washington Post. “I’ve got to own that.”

The police chief also addressed other accusations made in Ms Brown’s complaint. The filing claims that the Baton Rouge Police Department’s strip search policy “violates the legal standard” by allowing officers to subject non-arrestees to such searches based on an officer’s suspicion alone.

The suit also accuses the department of ignoring misconduct complaints by the street crimes unit.

“We’ve been pretty consistent in our discipline,” Mr Paul told the Post, disagreeing with the suit’s claims. “We’ve terminated officers for bad behavior.” To demonstrate this, he noted that two officers who were once involved in the street crimes unit were placed on administrative leave on Tuesday.

He added that the department has moved operations — which used to be conducted at the warehouse — to other facilities. The police chief said that before restoring the street crimes unit, he was waiting for the internal investigation to be completed.

Ms Brown is suing the Baton Rouge Police Department for unreasonable search, unreasonable seizure, Monell liability, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, negligence, and state constitutional violations.