The police chief in Hammond, La., has become the subject of community outrage after leaked surveillance footage from 2017 revealed what many consider an act of blatant police brutality perpetrated by him against a Black man who was in handcuffs. On Monday, activists and members of the community held a meeting to discuss the incident and call for a reopening of the investigation into it.
WBRZ 2 reports that Edwin Bergeron, who is the city’s current police chief but was a sergeant at the time of the incident, was caught on surveillance video footage punching Kentdrick Ratliff, a Black drug suspect at the time. Ratliff can be seen in the video reaching with his hands cuffed behind his back towards a desk in the police station booking room just before he was aggressively taken down by Bergeron and other officers. The officers said Ratliff was reaching for pills he was arrested for illegally possessing. According to WBRZ, Ratliff has since admitted reaching for the pills was a mistake.
After being punched, Ratliff was tazed, kicked and held down by multiple officers before he is seen being dragged away on the surveillance video.
Bergeron was the mayor’s pick for police chief in 2019. Councilmember Devon Wells says they never saw the full video of the incident before approving that decision. At least two other council members also said they did not see the video beforehand.
The full video was leaked to the WBRZ Investigative Unit in early August. A third party investigator reviewing the footage said the officers’ use of force was “excessive” and “borderline criminal.” That independent investigation was launched after one officer received disciplinary action for kicking Ratliff during the incident.
During the community meeting Monday—which was attended by Hammond residents, multiple city council members and the Louisiana and Baton Rouge chapters of the NAACP—Hammond Mayor Pete Panepinto said that former Police Chief James Stewart had already launched an investigation into the incident shortly after it happened in 2017 and that nothing came out of it.
“When this came up, he immediately looked into it,” Panepinto said. “The attorney directed them to bring it up to the FBI. They investigated. They came back with nothing.”
Who knows what the mayor thought he was going to accomplish saying that to a room full of fed-up Black people who saw with their own eyes the violent incident investigated by other law enforcement officials who “came back with nothing,” but members of the Hammond community were predictably unsatisfied.
“I’ve been knowing that chief, never had a problem with him,” one woman said during the meeting. “But when I saw that video of the chief punching that guy, I lost all respect for him. That was wrong.”
According to WBRZ, Bergeron was also present during the meeting but opted not to speak.
No immediate action was taken against Bergeron after the meeting, but one city council member told reporters that a resolution will be drafted calling on Panepinto to remove him as chief of police. That resolution is set to be brought up at the next council meeting.