An embattled Louisiana police department has been hit with a second lawsuit alleging officers from a street crime unit dragged detainees to an unmarked warehouse dubbed the “Brave Cave,” where they were assaulted, stripped and subjected to body cavity searches.
The latest allegations against the Baton Rouge Police Department were detailed in a lawsuit filed Monday by Ternell Brown, a 47-year-old grandmother who said she was taken to a “torture warehouse” after officers making a traffic stop found bottles of legal prescription medication in her car.
“She was forced to show officers that she was not hiding contraband in her vagina or rectum,” the Baton Rouge woman’s complaint stated. “After more than two hours, they let her go without charge.”Brown’s lawsuit, which also named the city, the parish of Baton Rouge and several officers as defendants, was filed a month after another resident, Jeremy Lee, filed a lawsuit alleging that in January he was taken to the “Brave Cave” and beaten by the officers.
The street crime unit called BRAVE, short for Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination, was disbanded after Lee filed his lawsuit, which included a body camera image of the 22-year-old perched on a chair in what appears to be a mostly empty warehouse.
"It’s essentially an unmarked interrogation warehouse where Baton Rouge citizens have been getting taken for years, strip-searched and sometimes beaten," Thomas Frampton, an attorney for Lee and Brown, said Thursday.
The officers named in the lawsuits "are well known for their brutality in the Baton Rouge community," Frampton said.
Lee was “left so badly beaten that the local jail refused to admit him until he was treated by a nearby hospital,” his complaint states. “There he was treated for broken bones and other injuries.”
The officer who arrested Lee, Troy Lawrence Jr., "has an extensive record of injuring members of the public, disregarding their constitutional rights, and escalating routine interactions into hostile and even violent ones," the complaint states.
Lawrence, the son of Baton Rouge Deputy Police Chief Troy Lawrence Sr., is one of the officers named in Brown's complaint. He resigned from the force in August, according to Lee's complaint.
When asked about the BRAVE unit four years ago on FOX's "First Responders Live," Lawrence Jr. said: “Like any other major city, when there’s guns and drugs, there’s violence. So that’s gonna be the aggressive side of us.”
Lawrence could not be reached for comment. His father said in a brief phone interview that his son does not yet have a lawyer.
“I’m not going to put him in touch with you right now, sorry to say,” Lawrence Sr. said.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul Jr. said in an interview Thursday that Lawrence Jr. was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of battery in a separate incident while he was still on the force and on duty.
Paul said the alleged victim was in handcuffs during the encounter and had been under investigation for having illegal narcotics.
But Frampton, the attorney, said Thursday that Lee's and Brown's cases are not about "individual rogue officers."
"This is about a level of institutional rot, and institutional responsibility for police misconduct that goes to the chief and the deputy chief and has been long-standing for years," he said.
He said he had heard from other alleged "Brave Cave" victims, who also plan to file lawsuits.
"There will be more," Frampton said.
Paul said his department has received seven complaints, not all of them lawsuits, from people who said they were taken to the "Brave Cave." He said he has requested a federal investigation and his department is cooperating with the FBI.
"I was not aware it was being used for strip searches," Paul said about the warehouse, which until recently was used by the police department to process seized narcotics.
He said he and other city leaders were unaware it was being used for other purposes until Lee filed suit.
"When we found out about it and looked into that and learned of those mistakes, I directed a full investigation into the complaint," he said. "And right now what we have is, we have two separate, parallel investigations that are actively going as we speak."
One is an internal affairs investigation, the other a criminal investigation, Paul said.
The FBI office in New Orleans said Friday that it had opened a federal investigation into the police department "and allegations that members of the department may have abused their authority."
"Experienced prosecutors and agents are now reviewing the matter for potential federal violations," the agency said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said Thursday that "no one was more shocked and frustrated" than she was upon learning about how the building was being used, and she ordered it closed permanently.
"This is egregious what took place with this alleged 'brave cave' or facility," she said. "And we’re going to get to the bottom of it."