The Shreveport Police Department has settled a federal lawsuit filed by a 37-year-old Black man who said an officer assaulted him after he expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Brandon Kennedy said he was standing in line at a Family Dollar store in late 2020 talking to another customer about police brutality when Officer Montrell Jackson approached from behind, ordered him to leave the store, then, once outside, slammed his face multiple times into the concrete. A second officer, Justin White, witnessed the assault but did nothing to stop it, according to court documents.

Kennedy, who was unarmed and did not resist or fight back, according to the lawsuit, was not arrested. Instead, the officer took him to a psychiatric hospital for a mental health evaluation. The suit was resolved on Dec. 2 and the settlement was announced on Monday (Jan. 30). According to an attorney for the Shreveport Police Department, Kennedy agreed to drop the case in exchange for a payment of $20,000, which was based on the estimated cost of defending the department through a trial.

ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed laid the blame for the violent incident on Shreveport Police Department leadership. She said Chief Wayne Smith has failed to punish problem officers and seeks to conceal misconduct by suppressing transparency. As a result, the city’s Black community continues to suffer “unnecessary, excessive, and violent force” at the hands of police, she said.

The brutal attack was even more egregious, Ahmed said, as it was an attempt to crush Kennedy’s First Amendment rights just months after millions of people across the country took to the streets to protest police violence following the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

The Shreveport Police Department declined an interview request but said in an emailed response that it did not admit liability as part of the settlement. An investigation cleared the officers of wrongdoing, and both remain employed by the department, according to the response. The lawsuit was filed in December 2021 as part of the ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab, an initiative launched in 2020 that enlists law firms and legal clinics to file litigation against law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Justice Lab partners have filed 51 cases focusing on excessive force, racial profiling, unreasonable searches, stops and seizures, and false arrest. Seven cases have or are in the process of settling with police departments in New Orleans, Hammond, Jackson, Thibodaux, Shreveport and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, according to the ACLU of Louisiana. 

Kennedy alleges he was beaten, detained for expressing his views

The incident that sparked the litigation took place on Dec. 15, 2020. Kennedy said he was standing in line at a Family Dollar store when he struck up a conversation with another customer. He told her he was a supporter of Black Lives Matter and has experienced his own violent run-ins with the Shreveport police. “I have to watch my back because the police like to put their hands on me,” he said, according to court documents.

Jackson, who was on duty at the time, appeared behind Kennedy and said, “Excuse me, what did you say?” When Kennedy repeated himself, Jackson ordered him to “step outside with me,” according to the lawsuit.

Once outside, Jackson asked Kennedy if he “want(ed) to do something” or “want(ed) an altercation,” to which Kennedy replied, “No, I’m not stupid.”

“Well then, get your motherf***ing ass up the street,” Jackson said, according to the suit. 

As Kennedy walked away, he said, “Man, you can’t talk to me like that. I pose no threat to you,” according to the suit.

Jackson allegedly grabbed Kennedy by the neck and slammed him onto the pavement. The officer then put his knee onto Kennedy’s neck and back, grabbed his head with both hands and slammed his face into the concrete, according to Kennedy.

The incident was captured by the store’s surveillance footage. Kennedy stood with his hands behind his back holding his grocery bags. He never resisted or posed a threat, his attorneys said in legal filings. 

The second officer, White, arrived in a police cruiser as Jackson threw Kennedy to the ground. Instead of stopping the alleged assault, White took Kennedy’s groceries, telling him he could get them back after he goes to the hospital, according to court documents. 

That’s when Jackson told Kennedy he was not being arrested. Instead, he was being taken to the “psych ward” for a mental evaluation because “you said you like to fight the police,” according to the lawsuit.

Kennedy spent the night in the hospital. He was released the next day after being evaluated by a psychiatrist who found there was no basis to hold him, according to the suit. A few days later, Kennedy took himself to the emergency room to be treated for the injuries he suffered to his face, neck and ribs.

Police said that Kennedy ‘wanted to fight’

The Shreveport Police Department’s official report of the incident tells a drastically different story. Jackson said he was inside the Family Dollar store when he overheard Kennedy state “I have to watch these crooked ass cops.” Jackson said Kennedy made the statement “with a hateful and intimidating look towards me.”

Jackson said he invited Kennedy outside to talk where Kennedy told him he “likes to fight the police, especially if he’s being arrested,” according to the report. Jackson said he ordered Kennedy to put his hands behind his neck and that he was “going to the hospital because of the fact that he wanted to fight me because I was a uniformed police officer.”

Jackson said Kennedy refused his command, so he took him to the ground, handcuffed him then placed him in his squad car. Jackson said he found a “half drunken pint of Taaka vodka” on Kennedy who appeared to be drunk, according to the report.

“It is to the best of my knowledge Kennedy does suffer from a mental illness and therefore is a danger to himself and uniformed officers and clearly has intentions on physically harming a police officer,” Jackson said in the report.

‘Runaround and significant delay’

The Shreveport Police Department has a troubling history when it comes to dealing with the Black community, according to the Police Scorecard, a national nonprofit that analyzes police violence, racial bias and accountability. Though Black people make up 56% of the city’s population, they accounted for 81% of those arrested and 62% of those killed by police from 2013 to 2020, according to statistics cited by Kennedy’s attorneys.

During those same years, a Black person was 19 times more likely to be killed by Shreveport police than a white person, according to the lawsuit.

“These are the highly predictable results of Defendant Smith’s decision not to discipline or terminate officers who act violently against unarmed Black civilians,” Kennedy’s attorneys said. “They are left unchecked to perpetuate violence against vulnerable populations.”

The Shreveport Police Department filed a motion with the court to strike Police Scorecard statistics from the litigation as well as anything that references George Floyd or insinuates the officers or department were motivated by racial bias. Lawyers for the department described the accusations as “immaterial, impertinent, and scandalous.”

The court denied the motion.

Kennedy’s attorneys said the police department tried to further derail the case by stonewalling efforts to obtain body camera footage, radio calls, written reports, disciplinary hearings involving officers Jackson and White, and any excessive force complaints against other officers within the department.

In response to a request for surveillance footage of the attack on Kennedy, Shreveport police provided an incomplete, 48-second-long clip that “is not an original file,” the suit states.  “It is, bizarrely, an unidentified person’s cell phone recording of a computer screen playing a portion of the relevant video.”

“When people ask for public records about police conduct from Shreveport PD, there appears to be a runaround and significant delay,” Ahmed said. “And that delay appears to be conscious and is intended to prevent the public from getting a full picture about what is going on with the Shreveport police department.

Ahmed lauded Kennedy’s bravery in standing up to police brutality in a corner of Louisiana that, unlike the New Orleans area, is not flush with civil rights groups and often falls outside the glare of the national media. 

“The fear of retaliation in the northern part of the state is so extreme, that people are very much afraid to even go seek assistance when misconduct is at issue because the towns are so small, and you can never actually hide,” Ahmed said. “If you go and make a complaint, there is significant fear that you will face a severe penalty, potentially a physical penalty for doing so.”

Note: This story was updated Thursday (Feb. 2) to include the terms of the settlement as described by an attorney for the Shreveport Police Department.

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Richard A. Webster

Before coming to Verite, Richard A. Webster spent the past two and a half years as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network. He investigated allegations of abuse against the Jefferson Parish...