State Police: Troopers followed rules in detaining youths in Quarter

Louisiana State Police determined that the controversial detaining of two young black men in the French Quarter during Carnival did not violate any of the agency’s guidelines and asked New Orleans police to investigate a police officer who intervened.

State Police released that statement Wednesday, saying that the plain clothes officers who detained two young black men “did not act improperly and used minimal” force while checking to see if the teenagers were violating curfew. Troopers detained Ferdinand Hunt, 18, and Sidney Newman, 17, shortly after the Krewe of Bacchus paraded as the young men stood on a sidewalk on Conti Street.

Col. Michael Edmondson, the State Police commander, wrote that the video of the incident, which sparked widespread anger among some New Orleans residents, doesn’t present the full picture of the encounter. His troopers followed all proper procedures, he said, and he questioned the conduct of Hunt’s mother, who intervened as he was being detained.

“When I first saw the video, I have to admit, as a father I found it unsettling. However, we now know that the video tells only part of the story of this 58 second incident,” Edmonson wrote in a statement. “Watch the video closely. No one was struck, no one was hit, no one was kicked, and no weapons were drawn, displayed or used. To suggest that the young men were manhandled or beaten would be a gross mischaracterization …”

On the video, troopers can be seen walking up to the young men and then throwing them to the ground. Troopers let the teenagers go after Hunt’s mother, who was in her police uniform, walks up to the scene.

The incident sparked questions about racial profiling and police brutality, and a relative of Newman said last month that it had forever changed his perception of police. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said that based on the video, he disagrees with Edmonson’s take on the incident.

“Based on what I saw on the video tape, the State Police did not handle that incident in the right way. Based on what I have seen, I believe it was wrong,” Landrieu wrote in a statement.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell held a hearing on the incident last month and said that while the State Police report was done in a timely fashion, he’s “disappointed” in some holes in the document. Morrell said investigators make reference to the young men trying to flee, which he said isn’t clear from the video. He also said that anyone who has watched the video would question if the force used was necessary. Without an audio component to the video, he said, it’s impossible to know if the troopers identified themselves verbally as they approached the youth.

“I think there were a lot of questions brought up in the hearing in New Orleans that have yet to be addressed,” Morrell said. “It’s hard for people to take this at face value.

Morrell said the Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold another hearing Tuesday to discuss the report with the State Police, and he plans to ask for a detailed review of the video.

Morrell said it’s disappointing that the two teenagers declined to be interviewed by troopers but said they were interviewed by New Orleans police, who should release their own report on the incident.

“The New Orleans Police Department should have had its own independent investigation, and that didn’t happen,” Morrell said.

NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden said police are investigating the actions of Officer Verna Hunt in the incident because the State Police have filed an official complaint against the officer with the department’s Public Integrity Bureau. However, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas also said he believes Hunt behaved understandably.

“Anyone who has watched that video — law enforcement or not — will agree that the teenager who was brought to the ground by a State Trooper should have been treated differently,” Serpas wrote. “As far as NOPD Officer Verna Hunt is concerned — first and foremost — I saw a mother protecting her child, not a police officer interfering with an investigation.”

No information was released on the other NOPD officer who was on the scene and did not intervene while State Police were detaining the teenagers.

Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who serves as chairwoman of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, was not available on Wednesday for comment. But Guidry plans to hold a special Criminal Justice Committee meeting on Monday evening to discuss the report’s findings.

According to the State Police, troopers clearly identified themselves as officers as they approached the teenagers and only used force when the teenagers tried to flee or resist. State Police wrote that they were authorized to stop and question suspected juveniles as part of their work in the city during Carnival.

Edmonson again lashed out at questions that race played a role in the young men being detained, which some residents claimed is part of a sustained practice of harassing young, black men in the French Quarter.

“In nearly 4 decades of providing assistance to the city during Mardi Gras a claim of biased policing has never been sustained against troopers. Never. Our culture does not support such unprofessional conduct and we would not condone it,” Edmonson wrote.

State Police sent a copy of its investigation to the FBI for further review.