Days after an exclusive report by Reason, the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) on Friday defended a traffic stop during which time five officers strip-searched a minor in public in January of last year because the cops allegedly smelled marijuana.
They then entered the family’s home without a warrant or consent. BRPD Chief Murphy J. Paul said in a Friday press conference that an investigation is ongoing as it pertains to the warrantless entry, but that charges were not sustained over the traffic stop and search.
The body camera footage “represents a fraction of what occurred between our officers and civilians,” said the BRPD chief of staff. The department aired additional footage on Friday after a court approved its release.
It did not change the story. Footage, incident reports, disciplinary records, and hearing transcripts obtained and released by Reason on Tuesday paint a troubling picture of what happened that day. That’s particularly true when it comes to the tenure of Sergeant Ken Camallo, who has executed three warrantless searches since 2017 and who appeared to demonstrate a lack of truthfulness while testifying under oath about that January traffic stop. Yet he has continued to serve.
On January 1, 2020, Camallo alleges he pulled over a vehicle for “suspicious driving” after noticing it had out-of-state plates and had been parked in front of a “known drug house.” Upon stopping the car, Camallo, joined by BRPD Officers Troy Lawrence Jr., Neil Porter, Jace Ducote, and Scott Johnson, proceeded to strip-search Clarence Green, then 23, and his 16-year-old brother, yanking down their underwear and prodding their genitals because the cops allegedly smelled marijuana.
They would go on to find weed on Green’s brother. They would also find a firearm on Green, which he was prohibited from owning, as he was on probation for possession of Oxycodone, according to the initial police report.
That same document says the cops then traveled to the Green residence to “release the juvenile to his mother.” They did more than that. After muting their body camera videos, they entered the home without a warrant or consent, and with guns drawn.
Green was indicted for illegally possessing a firearm. After sitting behind bars for 5 months, the state ultimately dropped the charges with little explanation.
A federal judge approved that request, but not before taking the opportunity to rebuke the state for its unconstitutional conduct and to remind the government “of its paramount obligation to seek and serve justice, not convictions.”
“The state agents in this case demonstrated a serious and wanton disregard for Defendant’s constitutional rights, first by initiating a traffic stop on the thinnest of pretext, and then by haphazardly invading Defendant’s home (weapons drawn) to conduct an unjustified, warrantless search,” wrote Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
He also suggested the cops may have committed crimes subject to prosecution under state law.
Camallo’s story waffled over time. An edited police report—one of nearly a dozen changing iterations documenting the January 1 interaction—notes that Tanya Green, Clarence’s mother, gave written permission to search his bedroom. That was not present on the initial police reports, Tanya denies providing such consent, and the body camera footage does not show her giving that permission.
Perhaps more importantly, a motions hearing transcript in November 2020 shows Camallo testifying that his disciplinary record was clean—something that Assistant U.S. Attorney Kashan Pathan would go on to confirm when asked point-blank by Jackson.
Yet that wasn’t true. In 2017, a different federal judge dismissed all of the evidence against a man who was charged with various weapons and drug offenses after Camallo conducted another warrantless search on his van. It was Pathan’s office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana, that had no choice but to drop that case—specifically because of Camallo’s behavior. BRPD internal affairs records obtained by Reason show that Camallo had several stains on his record, including a charge for untruthfulness filed in 2019 pertaining to a third warrantless search, as well as disciplinary charges filed in connection to the 2020 incident.
The city last month quietly agreed to pay a $35,000 settlement if the Green family would drop a civil suit—a tacit acknowledgment of just how brutal this case was. But it’s also indicative of how elusive accountability is when the government tramples on your rights. The entire sum will come out of taxpayer dollars, the Greens will not have the opportunity to confront the officers in civil court, and the cops continue to serve on the force.
Police accountability has been the issue du jour over the last year. Relevant to the conversation is qualified immunity, the legal doctrine that makes it insidiously difficult to bring lawsuits against state actors when they violate your rights. Victims may not argue their claims before a jury if the alleged government misbehavior and the circumstances surrounding their cases have not been addressed almost identically in a prior court precedent.
In practice, that’s protected a cop who shot and killed a man who had been sleeping in his car, two cops who assaulted and filed bogus charges again a man who was standing outside of his own home, four cops who beat a man to a pulp after pulling him over for broken lights, and two cops who allegedly stole $225,000 while executing a search warrant.
In other words, should the Greens have proceeded with their suit, they may have found themselves legally barred from stating their case before a jury in civil court. The city’s settlement with them is a testament to how cut and dry their case might have beee, but there are plenty of other shocking instances where the government skirted accountability completely for their actions.
Though the Greens fared better than many victims, they still haven’t gotten real accountability. Worth noting is that internal affairs records obtained for Lawrence show no disciplinary action filed against him in connection with the January 1 traffic stop.
“If you don’t shut the fuck up, I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna fuck you up,” said Lawrence that evening. The reason? Green was trying to warn his brother not to give officers his DNA.
“You think I’m playing with you? I will fuck you up,” Lawrence said.