Video Shows Baton Rouge Police Pinning Man To The Ground and Beating Him
The officers were part of the department's Street Crimes Unit, known among residents for its aggressive patrols.
Two weeks after a routine police stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you can still make out the injuries on Steven Wayne Young’s body. There are the scabs on his wrists from where the handcuffs tore into his skin when an officer dragged him by the arm. He lifts his shirt over his head and bows his head forward to give a clear view of his back. He has mottled skin where the prongs of a police Taser latched onto him. He mimics the sizzling sound of the weapon’s electricity racing through him.
Young, 42, points to a picture on his phone—the mugshot taken of him while the officers booked him. His eyes are nearly swollen shut, he has an open wound on the right side of his temple, and tears from being pepper sprayed streak his cheeks. His face contorts as he talks about the agonizing sensation of being sprayed in his eyes over and over. Then he takes out the medical documents showing his litany of injuries. He was taken to a health clinic after the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison refused to accept him in the condition he was in.
Police have consistently denied Young’s account that he was beaten for no reason and local media reported that an officer had been cleared after an internal investigation into the incident.
Now, as Young recovers from his injuries, he is facing gun, marijuana, and resisting arrest charges. As he recounts the brutal, nearly six-minute beating, his voice starts to crack, and he begins to cry. It’s not any one injury he sustained, or a specific blow he received that leads Young to weep. It is recalling that feeling of helplessness. That feeling from his childhood that he so despised as a student who bounced from school to school in special education classes.
“When I start getting to thinking about their whooping that they were putting on me like bullies—and two at the same time—that was that feeling when I’m like, when I’m getting beat up and I can’t do nothing about it,” he said, his voice cracking, his chest heaving. “And everybody’s sitting back looking at me looking like a fool, you know what I mean? And it hurts me. That hurts me. I can’t stand a bully. I can’t stand nobody that preys on somebody.”
‘They did that for a blunt?’
Young’s Oct. 24 arrest started when the officers pulled up in a white Dodge Charger outside his apartment complex and accused him of holding a blunt, which Young insists he did not have. The Baton Rouge Metro Council passed an ordinance in February allowing officers to issue tickets for small amounts of marijuana instead of making arrests, though officers are still able to make arrests under state law at their discretion.
The confrontation quickly escalated. According to the arrest report, Young tried to pass of the blunt to a neighbor then tried to flee—first on his motorcycle then on foot. When the officers tried to restrain Young, according to the report, he fell to the ground. One of the officers then Tasered him. Then the two officers and Young “actively fought,” according to the police report, until back-up came. After the fight but before putting him in the cop car to take him to booking, they searched him and found a concealed weapon in his pants, according to the police report.
Young and his neighbor, Latrice Robinson, dispute this version of events. Both said that they weren’t smoking a blunt when the officers showed up and that the officers approached them aggressively, tackling Young from the beginning of the interaction. Young said he never had an opportunity to try to flee or to fight back. He said he went from trying to put his motorcycle away to getting beaten, Tasered, and pepper sprayed.
The encounter, which lasted several minutes, was captured on videos by residents and bystanders—two of whom were also arrested after Young’s beating and arrest. In the videos, they express shock and disbelief at the beating, which continues even after Young is cuffed and seemingly defenseless on the pavement.
At moments in the footage, there are pauses in the violence, and it seems like the beating has come to an end. Then, suddenly, an officer will unleash another series of blows to Young’s head.
In a video taken from across the parking lot, a woman yells “Look at him, look at him punching. Why?” while the officer smashes Young’s head. In the background as she speaks, there’s a loud thump—either from the sound of the impact of a cop’s fist with Young’s skull or from the sound of Young’s head bouncing off the pavement.
In another video filmed from an apartment overlooking the parking lot, a woman’s voice shouts “You’re going to kill him!” while she bangs on the window.
Randy Brown, 38, was in the parking lot that day with his teenage son. He taped the incident and yelled out in disbelief when he heard how it all started. “They did that for a blunt? Goddamn!” he’s heard yelling in his video. Just the day before, he later told The Appeal, he had instructed his son to turn around and walk in the opposite direction if he saw the white Chargers.
Now, his son was able to see firsthand why.
Brown and his son fled back to their apartment when the police started to arrest bystanders who were telling them to stop the beating. One of the two other people arrested, a maintenance worker for the apartment complex, can be seen in the video getting shouted at by one of the officers who arrived as back up. Just as the cop is about to cuff the worker, a woman’s voice warns Brown, “He was just standing there—put that camera down.” The final seconds of the video are of the pavement as he races back home.
The Baton Rouge police press office initially declined to comment for this story, including on the size and mission of the Street Crimes Unit. Instead, the office directed requests to the department’s legal division. A representative responded that the legal office doesn’t answer questions but suggested that The Appeal submit a public records request. The representative noted that any records related to the criminal prosecution of Young are “not subject to disclosure until the criminal litigation is finally adjudicated.”
However, after repeated attempts at getting comment, the public information office finally confirmed what it told the local media. In an interview with a television station, Sgt. L’Jean McKneely Jr., a police spokesperson, said the officers who beat Young will be exonerated by what’s seen in their body camera footage. He said the videos released to the public do not show the whole story. He said Young didn’t listen to the officers’ commands and he continued to resist even when he was handcuffed.
“He was actively fighting, went to the ground, and continued to fight actively with the officers,” McKneely said. “And all that is clearly on the body cam.”
“Once you see this video, you will see why he resisted, especially when we pulled the gun he had concealed in his waistband.”
McKneely said that the footage captured by the officers’ body cameras justifies their actions.
But, they have yet to release this video.
Young and his lawyer have requested it be released. A court date was scheduled for today to determine the disposition of the body camera and dashboard camera footage. A judge denied the request to order the release of the footage.
If released and if the officers used their body cameras appropriately, the footage would show what happened at the beginning of the arrest, settling the dispute between Young and his lawyer and the BRPD over what happened during the initial interaction. It would also show what happened after the bystanders stopped shooting with their phones.
When Alton Sterling was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police in 2016, the BRPD also said body camera footage of the incident would justify its officers’ actions in the eyes of the community. It did not. In fact, when longer videos emerged—both footage the police seized without a warrant and video from the officers’ body cameras—the new footage only stoked further controversy over what many community members saw as unnecessarily aggressive treatment of Sterling from the very beginning of the incident.
“There is an aura of mistrust between the Black community and the police department,” Ron Haley, Young’s lawyer, said. “And it has to do with situations like Steve Young. It has to do with situations like Raheem Howard, Alton Sterling, Calvin Toney.”
A climate of fear
The police department hasn’t released the names of the officers involved in the incident, but they are with a unit well known to Black residents.
Like many police departments across the country, Baton Rouge has a specialized Street Crimes Unit, which goes into high-crime neighborhoods and aggressively pursues drug and gang activity. Baton Rouge’s unit is responsible for several recent police shootings and excessive-force complaints. In October, an officer from the unit was fired after he lied about a shooting during a traffic stop.
The fear of the team is ubiquitous. Many people who live in the predominantly Black neighborhoods of North Baton Rouge have a story to tell. A mother who lives on the 2000 block of North 16th Street in Baton Rouge told The Appeal during an interview in August that she had to chase an officer from the team out of her house one day because he barged in looking for her son who had just come home from work. She said most of the young men in her community had been stopped on the street for no reason. During the interview, several young men came rushing over to her porch, telling The Appeal that they wanted to avoid contact with the unit who had just started their patrol.
In two dozen interviews, Black residents said they knew what days the team comes through their neighborhoods. The officers drive unmarked white Dodge Chargers. While out speaking with residents, reporters from The Appeal saw the Chargers drive through a neighborhood and watched people run into their homes. Parents teach their children not to talk back to the officers in those cars. Community leaders, residents, and local politicians say the unit threatens residents and stops them without cause.
“They have a track record of showing up in the community and terrorizing people,” said Gary Chambers, an activist who organizes around police-community relations.
Chambers said the aggressive policing is actually doing more harm to the relationship between Black residents and the police department. Who wants to reach out to the police, he asked, if they’re going to beat you while you’re trying to park a motorcycle? “Whooping ass isn’t solving the problem,” he added.
Haley, Young’s lawyer, has interviewed hundreds of clients in his more than a decade as an attorney in Baton Rouge handling cases of police abuse. “The Street Crimes Unit is a big reason for the fractured trust between the police and the community it’s supposed to protect,” Haley said. “I understand it’s a two-way street. I understand why there is a thought to overpolice certain parts of the Baton Rouge community. But it’s not working.”
An example of how badly it isn’t working, he said, is what happened to his client. He insists that the police release the dashboard camera footage and the body camera footage of the incident. But to pin this on specific officers misses the point, he said. This problem with abuse and violence is one that runs deep in the Street Crimes Unit, he claims, citing his experience in several prior cases.
“We are seeing too many incidents coming out of that unit that are coming to question in a very public way,” Haley said. “And after a certain point, we have to question: Is this more the individual officer? Or is this the culture of the unit?”
He said that in nearly every case there is some sort of a resisting charge levied against the defendant when the police use force. “They use that resisting charge to justify their officers’ force,” he said. “That is why he was not surprised when his most recent client, Young, had a resisting charge field against him by the BRPD. It’s a predictable part of the script when dealing the BRPD, he says, whenever questions of excessive force come up in one of his cases.
So far Young has only been arrested by the BRPD. He has yet to be formally charged by the district attorney’s office.
Latrice Robinson, the neighbor who was with Young in the minutes leading up to the beating, was one of the two bystanders arrested that day. She was charged with obstruction of justice and possession of marijuana, and spent 17 hours in the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. According to her arrest report, she tried to hide Young’s blunt as the police approached. Robinson denies this. She said she believes she was arrested for taking photos of the license plates of the police cars and joining in a chorus of people who were pleading with the officers to stop the beating.
“The real truth is,” Robinson said explaining her arrest, “I was able to see what happened.”
The beginning of the arrest of the maintenance man who worked for the complex can be seen in one of the videos. He could not be reached for this story.
Robinson, 48, had been chatting with Young and helping him guide the back of his motorcycle into the gated lot in front of his apartment when a Dodge Charger pulled up suddenly and two officers got out, she said. Robinson, who was out walking her dog and looking for the property manager, had seen the Charger just minutes before. The officers had been conducting a search. They rushed toward Young. “Give me the marijuana! Don’t try to pass it off,” an officer shouted, according to Robinson—a command that perplexed both Young and Robinson who said they did not have a blunt. Then, one of the officers charged at Young who fell, taking Robinson and his bike down with him.
“I didn’t know what they was going to do next,” said Robinson, who said she sat startled on the ground next to her dog and watched everything unfold in front of her. One of the officers pulled out a weapon, a Taser she quickly realized when Young began to writhe on the ground, electric currents jolting through his body. Then they got on top of him and started hitting him.
“Dang is this really happening? This can’t be happening,” thought Robinson, who had only seen police beat civilians in movies and on TV. “This is not happening in front of my own eyes!”
Witnessing the beating shook Robinson’s world view. She grew up in a family of police officers and had always trusted the police, she said.
“Now I’m like, I don’t know who to trust,” she said. “I don’t know if I should trust them.”
In the videos, Robinson, visibly distraught, paces around in the crowd of bystanders with her dog in her arm, verbally protesting the abuse taking place just feet away from her.
She said she wondered later how many others the police had abused.
At the end of November, Young’s lawyer went public with his attempt to get the dashboard camera and body camera footage of the incident. But, as Young and his lawyer fight the criminal charges and prepare a civil lawsuit, his fear about what the cops could do next has only increased.
Throughout the past few weeks, he said, he had seen white Dodge Chargers following his car and driving through his neighborhood.
“If I don’t leave Louisiana I’m really seriously in trouble. I’ll take a lie detector test to show that I’m not exaggerating about my feelings. I am scared for my life,” he said. “I’ve got to leave—I cannot stay in the state of Louisiana.”