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State troopers refute accusations of abuse and racial profiling

11th August 2014   ·   0 Comments

The Louisiana State Police, who have been deployed to New Orleans to help the undermanned NOPD get a handle on violent crime, fired back last week at a popular musician who says he was roughed up and racially profiled by state troopers as he drove home from a gig late last month.

Shamarr Allen told FOX 8 News that he was roughed up and threatened by state troopers in the Ninth Ward, for no reason. Allen, who plays and trumpet and sings and was a featured in a commercial featuring local attorney Chip Forstall several years ago, told the news station that he afraid for his life and thinks he was targeted by the troopers because of the color of his skin.

Allen, 33, said he had just dropped off a friend after a performance at DBA on Frenchmen St. on July 23 when the incident occurred.

“One officer steps on my face, the other’s got his knee in my back, the other one that’s got my hands, is putting handcuffs on me,” Allen told FOX 8 News. “My elbow, my shoulder, my knee, all of that is scraped up.”

“You move one time, I’m going to blow your head off,” Allen told WWL-TV in an interview earlier this month a state trooper told him. “In my head I’m like, ‘Maybe this is how it’s going to end for me.’”

Allen says he was at the intersection of Caffin Ave. and Chartres St. about 2:30 a.m. when he noticed police cars and flashing lights. He says he was trying to leave the intersection when state troopers pulled up behind him and forced him out of his vehicle.

State police told FOX 8 they were in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood looking for an escaped inmate when they saw Shamarr Allen stop abruptly in the middle of the street, and put his car in reverse, trying to leave the area. State Police Lt. J.B. Slaton said Allen did not cooperate with police, wouldn’t show his hands and troopers were concerned that he might have a weapon, so they removed him from the vehicle. Slaton added that when the dash cam video was released, it would show exactly what happened.

While Allen has told the media that he was handled roughly by the state police, Slaton told FOX 8 News that troopers simply used control techniques to place him on the ground.

“From the dash cam view, there’s no indication that a foot was placed on his head or any weapons or guns were placed in his face, or anything of that nature but with that being said, this is something that we’re going to look into to the fullest,” said Lt. Slaton.

Allen reportedly filed a complaint Monday with the NOPD’s public integrity bureau. Lt. Slaton says troopers have not received word of any complaints filed against them. Allen says he simply wants an apology from the troopers. Lt. Slaton told FOX 8 that state police have called Allen and left him several messages. Allen insists that he hasn’t received any calls from LSP officials.

In the interview earlier this month with WWL-TV Allen said that the July 23 incident was not the first time he had been racially profiled or harassed by police, but added that it was his worst experience with police. He left no doubt about why he believes he was stopped and mishandled by the state troopers: the color of his skin.

“That’s just, again, the life of a Black guy, that looks like me, dresses like me, talks like me,” he told WWL-TV.

At a Wednesday news conference, State Police Supt. Col. Mike Edmonson refuted Allen’s claims that he had been kicked by state troopers. “None of that took place,” he said. “There was no foot placed anywhere on Mr. Allen.” Edmonson said that the force used by state troopers was warranted by Allen’s refusal to cooperate with them. “Every action that I saw my troopers take was in response to his actions,” Edmonson told reporters. “He was uncooperative, his story kept changing.”

The recent release of the 14-minute video of the encounter on July 23 with state troopers has not cooled the war of words between Allen and LSP officials. Allen is out of the frame for most of the video and there is no audio recording of what took place.

Allen told The Advocate that he still believes that his rights were violated by the state troopers. “The scariest thing in the world is to be alone with six police officers with guns in your face,” Allen said, denying claims by LSP officials that he was uncooperative. “Why would I put up any type of fight after the police have me in handcuffs?”

While Allen insists he cooperated with the state troopers, he admitted that he was anxious during the encounter.

“I told them exactly what was going on,” Allen told The Advocate. “I had a friend killed by the police, a friend’s mother killed by the police. … I’m sitting there dealing with this, and it’s all playing in my head.”

At one point, the dash cam video shows state troopers pushing Allen onto a car’s bumper where he is questioned. When he tries to get up, state troopers are shown shoving him back onto the car before forcing him to sit down in the street.

Edmonson told The Advocate that Allen has not contacted or filed a complaint with the Louisiana State Police. “Unless any other information comes up, I’m through with this,” Edmonson said.

The Shamarr Allen incident was not the first time state troopers have come under fire for their interaction with residents in New Orleans. Last February, plainclothes state troopers were filmed on security cameras swarming around two Black teenagers and wrestling them to the ground in the French Quarter.

The two teens, Ferdinand Hunt and Sidney Newman, said they were standing around after a Carnival parade and waiting for one of the teen’s mother, an NOPD 8th District officer, to return with a meal for them. When NOPD Officer Verna Hunt arrives and questions the officers, they abruptly leave the scene.

The families of both teens have filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice.

After the French Quarter incident, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas criticized the plainclothes state troopers’ handling of the encounter with the two teens, with the mayor saying it was “wrong.” After civil rights leaders and community activists planned a meeting to discuss racial profiling, the mayor agreed to join them but later opted to hold his own meeting on the same day at the same time to talk about his NOLA For Life initiative.

While the mayor and police chief condemned the state troopers’ role in the Carnival incident, neither responded to questions about a female NOPD officer that was videotaped across the street from the teens instructing the plainclothes officers to confront the teens.

After an internal investigation, Col. Edmonson concluded that the plainclothes officers involved in the 2013 French Quarter incident had done nothing wrong.

“That’s what cops do — they look out for one another, even if that means violating the rights of civilians and placing people’s lives and safety in jeopardy,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “As much as the NOPD needs help, it’s time for the state troopers to go. They have proven that they cannot handle the demands of constitutional policing in a mostly Black city.

“They might think they are helping New Orleans,” Brown added, “but the help they are providing is killing us.”

On WWL Radio Thursday morning, a community activist who calls himself Captain Black said that Black New Orleans residents are grateful for the extra protection provided by Louisiana state troopers as the NOPD struggles to maintain its officers and attract new police recruits.

Responding to a request for help from Landrieu after a mass shooting on Bourbon Street that claimed one life and left nine others injured, about 50 state troopers are patrolling the streets of New Orleans and will remain here through Labor Day.

This article originally published in the August 11, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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