Troopers Charged in 2020 Beating of Black Driver

White officers sent texts boasting about the 'whoopin''
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 12, 2022 5:17 PM CDT
Troopers Charged in 2020 Beating of Black Driver
Louisiana State Police body camera video shows an unidentified law enforcement officer applying an electric weapon to the back of Antonio Harris as other officers restrain him in May 2020.   (Larry Shappley/Louisiana State Police via AP, File)

(Newser) – State prosecutors have charged three Louisiana State Police troopers accused of beating a Black motorist, hoisting him to his feet by his hair braids, and bragging in text messages that the "whoopin'" would give him "nightmares for a long time." The misdemeanor simple battery charges in the 2020 arrest of Antonio Harris come amid mounting scrutiny of the state's premier law enforcement agency over allegations of excessive force—particularly against Black people—and an institutional instinct to cover it up, the AP reports. Conviction carries up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Jacob Brown, Dakota DeMoss, and George "Kam" Harper, who are white, were seen on body-camera video piling onto Harris after a high-speed chase that ended next to a cornfield in rural Franklin Parish, kneeing, slapping, and punching him even though he had surrendered face down with his arms and legs splayed. The troopers later exchanged 14 text messages peppered with "lol" and "haha" responses in which they boasted about the beating and mocked Harris. Their attorneys declined to comment Thursday. A state police spokesperson said the troopers' actions "are inexcusable and have no place in professional public safety services." State police had arrested the troopers in February 2021 on felony charges of malfeasance in office, but local prosecutors elected not to bring that count.

"Obviously we would have liked stronger charges, but we're still hopeful the Department of Justice will bring a case," said Harris’ attorney, Michael Sterling. A federal grand jury in Lafayette has been hearing testimony in the case following a monthslong investigation into whether the troopers used excessive force. But it remains unclear whether the US Justice Department intends to move forward with a civil rights case. A similar uncertainty hangs over the federal investigation into the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene, another Black motorist who died in Louisiana after being beaten by state police. A federal grand jury has been hearing testimony in that case. The AP reported this week that the Justice Department is increasingly skeptical it can bring a successful case against the troopers.

(Read more Louisiana stories.)

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