Video: BRPD officers ‘counseled’ after 2012 reckless driving stop

Baton Rouge police officer David Stewart was off duty and outside his jurisdiction, but he could not overlook the swerving white pickup going nearly twice the 45 mph speed limit on Juban Road, just outside of Denham Springs.

Stewart switched on his emergency lights and gave chase, planning to alert Livingston Parish authorities after investigating what appeared to be a case of road rage or drunken driving. What the officer did not know — before a testy roadside exchange — was that the erratic motorist was also an off-duty Baton Rouge police officer.

Cpl. Brian L. Harrison, seemingly oblivious to the blue lights and siren behind him, refused for more than a minute to pull over. When he finally did, he was furious that Stewart had stopped him beyond his jurisdiction.

Ultimately, Stewart canceled his alert to Livingston deputies, and Harrison was never cited in the incident.

The traffic stop, which happened April 30, 2012, prompted an internal investigation that led to verbal counseling for both Harrison and Stewart. Nevertheless, Harrison’s behavior was met with surprise and dismay among the department’s higher-ups, according to Baton Rouge police internal affairs records.

The Advocate obtained video of the traffic stop and the internal affairs documents, through a public records request, after the Police Department released a recent overview of its 2012 internal affairs cases.

After being stopped by Stewart, Harrison eventually pulled out his wallet and identified himself as a police officer.

Stewart was in disbelief that his newly acquainted colleague had shown such disregard for public safety.

As the conversation grew increasingly heated, Stewart shouted that his children drive on Juban Road.

“I don’t care,” Harrison said, according to footage captured on Stewart’s dashboard camera.

“That’s what’s wrong with police officers like you,” Stewart responded. “You ought not be a police officer.”

“You’re exactly right,” said Harrison, who is assigned to the department’s Air Support Unit.

Stewart then changed his mind about summoning Livingston Parish authorities to the scene, so he notified them to ignore his earlier request. Stewart explained later in a letter to his supervisors that he wanted “to spare my department any further embarrassment by involving an outside police agency in what turned out to be Baton Rouge City Police business.”

Harrison, 39, returned to his truck and drove off, but not before showing Stewart an extended middle finger.

Later in the day, Harrison sent an email lecturing Stewart for getting angry and suggesting he was the one who should forfeit the badge for having gone “AWOL” from the department for a time.

“I understand you are new and want to pull everyone over but please … sometimes give it a rest,” Harrison wrote. “The best thing you could have done was get on I-12 and go to work.”

A police supervisor whose name was blacked out of the internal affairs records recalled being “shocked” at Harrison’s actions.

“When it got to the point that Cpl. Harrison identified himself as a Baton Rouge police officer, I feel that he was beyond his capacity of a police officer and was a violator of several traffic infractions and needed to be treated as such,” the supervisor wrote.

Despite those apparent violations — and his initial refusal to pull over — Harrison was received no written discipline for the run-in, other than the verbal counseling, said Kim Brooks, the Police Department’s legal advisor.

Lt. Don Kelly, a police spokesman, said Stewart also was verbally counseled by a supervisor.

That disciplinary action was determined by former Police Chief Dewayne White, who was fired in February and did not respond to a request for comment.

Interim Chief Carl Dabadie said he would not second-guess White’s decision, but added he will not hesitate to hold officers accountable if they fail to conduct themselves professionally.

Harrison, in a letter to his supervisors, apologized “for any inconvenience this incident may have caused to all involved.” He acknowledged exceeding the speed limit “since the road ahead was clear,” and said he thought a colleague might have been playing a prank on him in trying to pull him over.

For his part, Stewart wrote in a report that Harrison’s actions “should not be taken lightly and require immediate attention from our department.

“Not only was it obvious that Cpl. Harrison showed no remorse for his ridiculous actions, but also that he blamed me for stopping what I saw as an immediate threat to public safety and to any other motorist on the roadway.”

Supervisors had a mixed response to Stewart making a traffic stop outside his jurisdiction.

One who defended Stewart wrote that the decision “would be deemed in any court as reasonable.”

The Police Department has no specific policy on this issue, Dabadie said, noting the law allows “any citizen, including an off-duty police officer, to make a felony arrest or assist another law enforcement officer who has jurisdiction in making an arrest.”

“Of course we all swear an oath to protect life,” Dabadie added, “so any law enforcement officer who sees a situation where they believe people are in imminent danger — even outside their jurisdiction — is probably going to try to intervene and stop it and not give much thought to policy or law at that moment.”

Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard said he was unaware of the incident until last week when he was asked by The Advocate to review video of the traffic stop. He said he was in touch with Dabadie to discuss the incident.

“We have several law enforcement officers from out of parish living in Livingston Parish,” Ard said. “They help stop crime, from traffic violations to burglaries, to suspicious activity. We expect them to contact us so we can work together to address each situation.”

In a statement issued Friday evening through the Baton Rouge Police Department, Harrison said the behavior he displayed during the incident “stemmed from the fact that the traffic stop was conducted by a law enforcement officer who was not only outside his jurisdiction, but also outside the parish in which he was commissioned in.”

Harrison added, however, that “I could have conducted myself in a more professional manner. The actions I displayed in that video are not how I carry myself in my day to day life or when I’m on duty with the police department. My choice of language used was a misjudgment on my part and I would like to assure the public that I carry myself with the utmost of professionalism when representing the Baton Rouge Police Department.”

Two weeks after the traffic stop, Harrison received the department’s lifesaving award for his role in an earlier helicopter rescue of a wounded man on the Amite River. His personnel file includes other commendations but no mention of last year’s reckless driving incident.

While working as a deputy with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office in 1995, Harrison was suspended three days after inadvertently shooting a store customer as he pursued two robbery suspects.

Harrison had borrowed a pistol from the store owner and was disciplined — not for shooting the wrong person but for entering a public place in full uniform without his sidearm, Sheriff’s Office records show.

Harrison also was involved in the controversial shooting death of George Temple II in 2006. Harrison had pulled Temple over for cutting into a funeral procession and fought with the man in a parking lot.

Harrison, who claimed Temple tried to bribe him to tear up a ticket, shot the man in the stomach, authorities have said. A man who witnessed the fight intervened and fatally shot Temple in the head and several times in the back.

A grand jury declined to indict anyone in Temple’s death, and the U.S. Justice Department found no civil rights violations in the case.