NEW ORLEANS -- An African American barber alleges he was unconstitutionally removed from his vehicle and beaten by state police in a case of mistaken identity, according to a lawsuit he filed in district court.
Michael Baugh was sitting in his truck and counting 14 hours of wages in September 2015 when two caucasian Louisiana State Police troopers, weapons drawn, forced him from the vehicle, the complaint alleges.
The New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) fielded a report about four men in a black pickup truck, one of whom had been observed waving a firearm out of the window at approximately 11 p.m. on Sept. 18.
Working as part of an enforcement agreement with the police department, state troopers Eric Thaxton and Charles Robertson followed up on the report. However, they focused their efforts on a single man sitting in a gray-colored truck who was legally parked in the area, according to the complaint.
Along with his truck being the wrong color, the barber's license plate didn't match the one described in the NOPD dispatch. The number of occupants, color of his clothes and his truck's location were all mismatched with the dispatch, according to the complaint.
Baugh was "harshly interrogated, physically assaulted, knocked to the ground," tased several times, falsely arrested and unjustly imprisoned as he asserted that the officers were interrogating the wrong man, the complaint continued.
Injuries Baugh said he endured as a result of the encounter included a broken tooth that required surgery, multiple lacerations, a dislocated wrist, emotional distress and distrust of "the very individuals who are supposed to serve and protect him."
There are "significant histories of complaints" about police brutality in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and other areas of Louisiana, said Bill Quigley, law professor and director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans.
"That is part of the reason that the U.S. Department of Justice forced the New Orleans Police Department into a consent decree to change the NOPD," Quigley told the Louisiana Record.
Along Baugh's September 2015 incident, the police-involved shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on July 5, returned national attention to brutality complaints in Louisiana.
"Police brutality is a significant problem, particularly in the African American and Latino community," said Quigley. "This creates huge problems for the community, because people are less likely to seek assistance from the police when they are viewed negatively and they are also less likely to cooperate with the police when crimes occur."
Complaints among minorities about police brutality are widespread, far beyond Louisiana. Quigley cited a recent Pew Research poll that found blacks are about half as likely as whites to have a positive view of the job their local police are doing.
Approximately 30 percent of black respondents indicated that they felt their local law enforcement agencies did a good job of holding officers accountable for misconduct. That figure stood at 70 percent for white respondents.
The first step in improving relations between law enforcement agencies and minority communities is to realize this is bigger than just a batch of "a few bad apples -- it's an orchard," Quigley said.
"There are many great people working in law enforcement, but they are working inside a system that racially profiles people, covers up misconduct and needs significant training and resources to become a constitutionally adequate system," he said.