Woman says she was harassed by La. state troopers
25th March 2013 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
After learning of the story of the two Black teenagers who were wrestled to the ground by nine state troopers and an NOPD officer two days before Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, a Texas woman with New Orleans roots decided to share her story with The Louisiana Weekly.
The woman, Zelia Brown, says she was headed to New Orleans on July 16, 2011 to visit her sick father when she was stopped, questioned and harassed by a state trooper. Brown says the entire ordeal lasted more than an hour and included the arrival of several state troopers for back-up and the search of her vehicle by a Kenner policeman and a drug-sniffing dog. She says she was forced by the state trooper who stopped her to stand in the rain while he asked her questions and allegedly tried to provoke her into making a mistake that would allow him to arrest her.
Brown, a McDonogh 35 Senior High School and Dillard University grad, filed a complaint with the Louisiana State Police on July 21, 2011.
In her formal complaint, Brown whose father is a 34-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department who served as a commander and a lieutenant, says La. State Trooper Gustave Bethea stopped her on the interstate near LaPlace, La., as she was heading into New Orleans to visit her ailing parents.
Brown alleges that the state trooper inappropriately asked her questions about her father’s health, why it took her so long to visit him and why she was only visiting him for a day.
According to the complaint, the trooper informed Brown that she had “clipped off” a driver behind her.
After asking Brown a host of questions about illegal narcotics and prescription drugs, he asked if he could search her car. Brown says he became animated when she asked him if he had a warrant and if he had probable cause to search her car.
The complaint also states that the trooper became more agitated when she asked him to alert his supervisor about the dispute and asked the trooper to write down his name.
Brown says she was told that the trooper didn’t have a single supervisor, that the department had several supervisors and that she could speak with a sergeant at Troop B if she had a problem. He also refused to write down his name.
Before the ordeal ended, Brown says she was asked if she had a “dead body, alligator, firearms, explosives, narcotics or hand grenades in her trunk”.
She states she was told by Trooper Bethea to stand off to the side of his car in the grass in an area that could not be monitored by the state trooper’s surveillance camera.
Fearing for her safety, Brown dialed 9-1-1, prompting the arrival of two more state troopers. Eventually. a Kenner policeman was summoned with a canine and a narcotics search ensued, Brown says, without probable cause, a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Brown says when she went into Troop B to begin the process of filing a formal complaint she was put off by the attitude of the Black desk sergeant she encountered during that visit.
“It was like it wasn’t a big deal to him,” Brown said. “It was like he was trying to discourage me from filing a complaint.”
He was not successful.
Brown alleges that she was “being targeted for intimidation” by someone in Kenner.
“They would call me from those numbers and just breathe on the phone,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “It could be 10 o’clock in the morning — it didn’t matter. When I saw the number, I locked it in my phone and saved it as ‘Kenner telephone number’ and let it go straight to voicemail.
“When they saw after about a month that I wasn’t answering the phone now and was letting it go to voicemail, they started calling from another number. I answered it a couple of times and they wouldn’t say anything, so I said ‘Wow, this must be the same person from the first number’ and locked it into my phone.
“I don’t know anyone who lives in Kenner,” Brown explained. “I have been having this phone since 2001. No one has ever called me prior to that from Kenner and when the complaint was closed out, no one has called since from those two numbers. I know that that was a scare tactic to try to get me to drop my complaint because they probably didn’t know how far it was going to go.”
Several months after filing a formal complaint, Brown received a letter from Louisiana State Police. “It took them four months to basically that my allegations were unfounded,” she said.
On November 1, 2011. Louisiana State Police Captain Carl Saizan told Brown in an official letter, “The allegation of Conformance to Laws on the part of Trooper Bethea is unfounded. The allegation is false, not factual.”
“Because my dad had been on the police force for 34 years, I know what they’re supposed to do,” Brown said. “This guy didn’t do that.
Brown says she decided to share her story with local elected officials and residents because remaining silent may have meant allowing other motorists and Louisiana residents to face unknown perils. “I thought it was awful,” she told The Louisiana Weekly. “I initially read the story about the French Quarter incident and it brought to mind the Watching Martin incident and others. Witnessing the video was even more horrific than the story.”
Brown says she immediately retrieved the file containing her formal complaint and decided to share it with NOPD Officer Verna Hunt and others in New Orleans. She added that she did so in part because the names of the nine state police involved in the French Quarter incident last month have not been released to the public.
Brown said she was moved to share her encounter with a Louisiana state trooper after she saw news coverage that showed how Sidney Newman was affected by the February 10, encounter with the plainclothes officers. “My heart goes out to these two young men, but especially Sidney Newman,” she told The Louisiana Weekly. “We were just sitting there laughing and out of nowhere, I saw two guys grab Ferd,” Sidney Newman told FOX 8 News last month.
“All of a sudden, I’m on the wall. A whole bunch of people just came up and threw me up against the wall,” Hunt added.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what was happening. I thought they were trying to rob us,” Hunt said.
“At that point another guy came up and grabbed me by my hair and he was on top of me. At the same time, I’m calling, ‘Ferd.’ I’m asking Ferd, ‘Where’s your mother?’” Newman recalled.
Before the encounter could continue, 8th District NOPD Officer Verna Hunt appeared and intervened on behalf of Sidney Newman and her son Ferdinand. She was later accused of interfering with a police investigation.
The Hunt and Newman families filed complaints with the FBI in New Orleans five days after the Feb. 10 incident.
Because the names of the state troopers involved in the Feb, 10, 2013 French Quarter incident have not been identified, Brown says she forwarded her report to NOPD Officer Verna Hunt, New Orleans City Councilwomen Susan Guidry and Cynthia Hedge Morrell..
Brown says she continues to come to New Orleans once a month to visit her parents.
This article originally published in the March 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.