BR officers cleared in fatal shooting

Bradford Etheredge
Bradford Etheredge

An internal investigation has cleared two Baton Rouge police officers who were placed on leave in April after fatally shooting a mentally disturbed man who attacked them with a knife, authorities said Tuesday.

The inquiry found no wrongdoing on the part of Cpl. Donald Johnson and Officer Brian Strong, who received wounds to the head and neck in a confrontation with the man at his home on North 24th Street.

“After reviewing the file, Chief (Carl) Dabadie exonerated the officers, which essentially means that he felt the officers’ actions did not violate departmental policies,” said Lt. Don Kelly, a Baton Rouge police spokesman. “Internal Affairs automatically investigates all officer-involved shootings to determine whether the department’s policies and procedures, especially with respect to use of force, were followed.”

The shooting happened April 8 as officers responded to an ongoing dispute between Bradford L. Etheredge and his landlord. Etheredge, 37, was shot three times in the torso and bled to death, authorities have said.

The officers, who were taken to the hospital for treatment, returned to full duty April 24 and were formally cleared May 23, Kelly said.

On Tuesday, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said he does not plan to present the case to a grand jury because no criminal action is suspected on the part of the officers.

“They did what they had to do to protect their own lives and that of others,” Moore said.

Etheredge’s mother, Wanda Fellman, has questioned the officers’ use of lethal force on her son, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She declined comment when informed of the outcome of the internal investigation.

The officers had been dispatched to 129 N. 24th St., at about 1:15 p.m. in response to a disturbance. The landlord had sought to evict Etheredge weeks before after he failed to pay his rent for several months, and police said the man called officers to be a mediator because he had become fearful of Etheredge.

But Etheredge “became irate” after the officers arrived at his door, according to court records.

“Officers attempted to handcuff Bradford Etheredge but to no avail,” Detective Belford Johnson wrote in an affidavit for a later search of Etheredge’s home. “He pushed the officers away and produced a knife. He then proceeded to stab both of the responding officers with the knife.”

The affidavit notes Etheredge “had a long history of mental illness and may have not been taking his prescribed medication as directed.” Officers searching the home later found a loaded .22-caliber revolver in the pocket of a coat as well as a suspected crack cocaine pipe, court records show.

Fellman, in an earlier interview, said she had grown increasingly concerned about her son’s condition and considered having him committed just a week before his death. She said he had been hospitalized on several occasions due to his mental health issues.

Dispatch records show the responding officers had no “advance information” about Ehteredge’s history of mental illness, Kelly has said.

“Our officers encounter emotionally disturbed persons just about every single day in a wide variety of settings and quite often have no way of knowing their status or history,” he said.

Kelly also has said that department policy authorizes deadly force to be used in defense of an officer’s life or the life of another “when there is an immediate threat of death or great bodily harm.”

Court records show Etheredge had a number of encounters with law enforcement, and that many of his arrests were drug related. Fellman has said her son often refused to take his medication until confronted with the specter of being committed to a psychiatric institution.

East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office records show Etheredge had been ordered into protective custody at least four times since 2003.