Part 1 of 5
Brett Percle remembers the day his front teeth were stomped out.
It was almost nine years ago during a police raid for marijuana at a friend’s house he was visiting. “Jack-o-lantern,” the officers had jokingly called him that day, his mouth a ruin, his T-shirt soaked in blood.
Percle sued the Baton Rouge Police Department, the department responsible, and won. Two years after the incident, a federal jury found Cpl. Robert Moruzzi liable for using excessive force against Percle and liable for assault and battery under Louisiana law. The jury also found the narcotics detective who ran the scene that day, Jason Acree, liable for wrongfully strip-searching Percle. Both officers were found to have violated Percle’s 4th Amendment rights, and he was awarded $25,000.
But he wanted more than money.
He wanted the officer responsible for his shattered teeth, Moruzzi, to answer for his behavior. Percle discovered Moruzzi had been involved with other alleged abuse cases and had been fired from the police department for a drunken incident with a gun only to be reinstated soon after. So Percle decided to go to the police headquarters to file a complaint with internal affairs – again.
He wasn’t optimistic.
“What I needed to know was, like, how they were gonna corrupt this and how they were going to cover this up,” he said years later in an interview. “How were they going to keep doubling down on lies?”
He asked his cousin Stacy, a justice of the peace in a nearby parish, to accompany him to police headquarters.
They left early in the morning. She carried a gun, which Percle said made him feel more secure.
Percle wasn’t nervous about what would happen when he got to headquarters. It was the trip there and back. He worried about what he called “the f*** shit” – the unpredictable things that could happen in a system that had backed good ol’ boys and hung guys like him out to dry.
They arrived at headquarters without incident and entered the building. Percle thought the reception desk looked more like a ticket counter at a movie theater or a vending area at a sports arena.
“My name is Brett, and I want to make an internal affairs report,” he told the receptionist.
After 15 minutes, the receptionist showed them to the double doors leading to the department’s offices. They had barely crossed the threshold when Don Young, a sergeant with the department’s Internal Affairs office, intercepted them. He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts.
Young pre-empted Percle’s complaint.
The department had already completed an investigation and Officer Orscini Beard, an Internal Affairs investigator, had testified to that in court, Young told them. He argued the standard of evidence in a civil trial like the one Percle had won is less than it is in a criminal one, and therefore Percle – who was still missing his four front teeth – didn’t technically have a case. Internal Affairs, Young added, would not take any further investigative steps.
“There’s really no proof showing that we did anything criminally,” Young can be heard saying on a recording Percle secretly made of the interaction.
Young explained to Percle that he needed to call the police department’s lawyer, Kim Brooks.
“As for right now,” Young said. “We are not going to do anything criminally or Internal Affairs wise.”
“How can you conduct an internal affairs investigation,” Percle interjected, “when I’ve never spoken to Orscini Beard a day in my life?”
“Well, that’s the conflict,” Young replied.
“Yeah,” said Percle.
“He testified in court that he did. You’re saying he didn’t,” Young replied.
“I have phone records that prove that we’ve never spoken,” Percle responded.
“OK. Why don’t you call Kim and find out what …” Young began.
“That was brought out in the federal court, too,” Percle said.
“… what the departmental stance is and she can answer you a little better, OK?” Young continued.
As they debated, two uniformed officers appeared, flanking Young with their arms crossed.
“They came to intimidate us out of the building,” Percle said, recounting the meeting years later.
The exchange lasted less than two minutes. They never led him to an office to take his complaint.
‘They just did me dirty’
Despite extensive local media coverage and losing a federal lawsuit, there is no record that the Baton Rouge Police Internal Affairs ever properly investigated the officer responsible for bashing in Percle’s teeth on June 11, 2014. And to this day Percle has not received an answer as to how that is possible. Despite the victory in federal court, Percle felt justice was denied.
“No one cares,” he said. “They just did me dirty again. Who cares? No one. Absolutely no one. And that’s the hardest part of all.”
He is not the only one frustrated and baffled by the department’s response to complaints. In the past decade, hundreds of residents like Percle have negotiated the Baton Rouge Police Department’s complex on Airline Highway or the previous headquarters on Mayflower Street to complain about officers like Moruzzi — and fared similarly.
They were either unsuccessful in their attempt to file a complaint or left in the dark for years wondering what happened to their cases.
And despite a policy requiring complainants to be notified of the outcome of the investigation, no one interviewed for this story reported receiving an update. In every case, they said they learned about the disposition of the case during interviews with reporters.
A close examination of internal affairs reports, dashcam videos and other evidence obtained in open-records requests — as well as interviews with the complainants, their families, and lawyers — revealed an internal affairs department that for years conducted nominal investigations with what appear to be preordained outcomes.
It uncovered significant discrepancies between officer and citizen accounts of alleged police abuse, in which Internal Affairs often accepted officer accounts that were directly contradicted by recordings or witnesses.
The police department wouldn’t comment on the cases investigated in this story, because they occurred before Murphy Paul became chief in 2018.
Instead, a spokesperson pointed to a revamped website that details key changes Paul has implemented, particularly around body camera policy. Paul has instituted a regimen of body camera audits by supervisors and sent officers to Internal Affairs if the audits turn up behavior that doesn’t comport with department policy. Those referrals happen even without a civilian complaint, the spokesperson said, which is a departure from the past.
The spokesperson added that Paul considers integrity a central component of reforming the department, repairing broken trust, particularly with the Black community and bringing down crime numbers and making Baton Rouge a safe city.
Cleaning up Internal Affairs has been a top priority, the spokesperson said. That division is a case where, in the past, the policy was in place but wasn’t being followed properly, the spokesperson said.
But reforming Internal Affairs is part of a larger effort to “realign” the department, the spokesperson said, pointing to a number of policies Paul has changed to conform with what are now considered best practices in the law enforcement community. The police department updated 24 policies in 2018, 25 more in 2019, 25 in 2020, and then 19 more last year.
Former chiefs Carl Dabbadie, Dewayne White and Jeff LeDuff wouldn’t comment for this story. After repeated attempts to speak with him, Cpl. Robert Moruzzi also declined to comment.
Retired members of the Baton Rouge Police Department said Internal Affairs often provided cover for officers accused of excessive force before quickly returning them to duty. In some cases, they said, officers who deserved more scrutiny or even discipline rose through the ranks and the union to positions of power in the department after being cleared.
In his 32 years with the Baton Rouge Police Department, as a decorated patrolman, then a captain and then the first Black Uniform Patrol Bureau commander, Carl Dunn said he saw from the inside how corrupt the internal affairs process could be.
“There wasn’t really a need for them (officers) to come out and take revenge on people that file complaints because the complaint didn’t go anywhere anyway,” he said. “It was going to be unsustained anyway.”
Like many police departments across the nation, Baton Rouge has faced turmoil, protest and heightened public scrutiny in recent years.
On July 5, 2016, Officer Blane Salamoni and his partner, Officer Howie Lake, responded to a report that a man selling CDs outside the Triple S Mart on North Foster Drive had threatened someone with a gun. The officers approached the man, Alton Sterling, at his CD stand. Within less than a minute and a half Sterling was dead, shot by Salamoni. He was one of three Black men killed by police in the United States in a period of three days, one whose killing was streamed live on Facebook. Footage of Sterling’s death spread like wildfire, prompting protests and outrage nationwide and abroad.
There was momentum for police reform in Baton Rouge in the wake of Salamoni’s shooting of Sterling. But those efforts ground to a halt by mid-summer when, on July 17, Gavin Long targeted and killed three Baton Rouge police officers. A fourth sustained devastating injuries and died last May. Then, in mid-August, a historic flood ravaged the city, killing 60 people statewide and leaving homes in ruins.
In January 2018, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome replaced Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie with Paul, a retiree of the Louisiana State Police, who took the job with an agenda to make reforms. And while some changes have been made internally and in the state legislature – such as modifications to the Officer’s Bill of Rights that fortify the internal affairs process – the department continues to grapple with the legacy and dysfunction of its Internal Affairs department.
Locals familiar with the department and the city’s politics say a civil war has broken out within the department pitting those pushing for reform against those who prefer the old way of doing business. The fights over that legacy highlight an internal affairs process that is deeply distrusted by the citizens it’s supposed to serve.
“They’re the ones who are supposed to protect the integrity and the reputation of the police agency so, of course, they should be above reproach,” said Lou Reiter, the director of the Public Safety Internal Affairs Institute, a network of risk management professionals, about internal affairs departments more broadly.
But that’s not what many residents see in Baton Rouge.
Of the 308 use-of-force complaints the department investigated between 2009 and 2018, Internal Affairs declared 86% of them “exonerated” or “not sustained.” That number rose to 100% in 2017, the year after Sterling was killed, according to the department’s data.
A retired New York Police Department official, who worked in the NYPD’s internal affairs bureau and asked that his name not be used in this story, said after seeing the data from 2017 that a year without a single sustained internal investigation into use of force is almost statistically impossible, no matter the department.
Looking at homicide numbers, Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s second-largest city and the state’s capital, would appear to be among the deadliest cities in the country.
East Baton Rouge Parish recorded 149 homicides in 2021 – 122 in the city of Baton Rouge. If New York City had the same rate of homicides as the parish did that year, it would have had 5,000 more killings than the 485 it recorded. That’s more than double the number of homicides in New York City at its peak in the early 1990s.
In early May, the president of the International Union of Police Associations called on Chief Paul to step down because of the surge in violent crime in the city in recent years.
Law enforcement and public officials in Baton Rouge said they desperately need cooperation from residents where violent crime is rampant to help rein it in. They can’t get that cooperation, they said, if they are harassing citizens – in some instances breaking their bones – and then lying about the encounters with the comfort of knowing Internal Affairs is there to clear their names.
“There was a culture where the officers, both Black and white, in the police department, could basically do anything they wanted on the streets with no consequence to the citizens, Black or white,” said Chauna Banks, a Baton Rouge Metro Council member. “They were brainwashed.”
Reiter, the director of the Public Safety Internal Affairs Institute, said it’s in law enforcement’s best interest to keep their officers accountable and to discipline officers who are violating policy.
“Our jobs are a lot easier if the community we’re policing supports – fully supports – us,” he said. “If the community we’re policing would feel comfortable coming up and giving us information about where the crimes are, where the bad cops are.”
Dunn, who retired from the department in 2015 and now is the police chief in the nearby city of Baker, said that, on some occasions, Internal Affairs officers would coach the officers accused of improper use of force off the record on what to say before the formal interview. Then during the official interview with Internal Affairs, the officer would later admit he forgot what he was coached to say. Dunn said the deck was stacked against average citizens who were trying to hold what they felt were out-of-control officers accountable.
“Man, if you just knew how many people were told, ‘Who you think we going to believe? You? Or the sworn police officer? That leaves his loved ones at home and come out here and try to save the world,’” he said. “‘Who you think we’re going to believe? Do you really want to file this complaint?’”
But some people pushed on nevertheless.
Edward Butler, a 73-year-old man who grew up harvesting sugarcane, reported to Internal Affairs in 2014 (case #IAD 004-15) that an officer yanked him off his bike and threw him to the ground during a traffic stop. His shirt was torn open exposing a scar from a recent surgery. Afterward, a friend needed to take him to the hospital.
Case #IAD 009-16 involves a father, whose young daughter’s screams and mother’s pleading voice can be heard in a recording of an incident with an officer on the family’s porch on Super Bowl Sunday in 2016. He had tried to defuse an escalating situation between his brother and the officer and instead wound up in cuffs with a broken wrist.
Case #IA 045-16 involves Marcus Thompson, the only officer investigated by Internal Affairs after the violent crackdown on protesters in the wake of Alton Sterling’s death in 2016. While federal lawsuits allege Baton Rouge officers committed many abuses that day –– such as separating children from their mothers, making mass arrests and beating peaceful protesters –– Thompson was investigated for questioning the department’s tactics.
There are the cases that never were filed, such as that of Rosalyn Scott. A year after the violent protests that landed Thompson in front of internal affairs, Scott, a grandmother, tried to file her own Internal Affairs report only, she alleges, to be held at gunpoint outside police headquarters and arrested instead.
In some instances, the original complainant could not be tracked down. IA file #002-13 involves an LSU law student and a dispute over a food delivery that quickly escalated to violence.
On Dec. 1, 2012, a Domino’s pizza delivery man called the police on the student after she refused to sign a receipt. She didn’t want to tip him because he was hours late with her dinner.
The responding police officer, Daryl Dyer, accused her of being a thief even though she had paid the $15.26 for the pizza. He shoved her against a kitchen counter and wrenched her arm behind her back, “body slammed” her three times and “smashed her to the ground,” according to the report, and then dragged her on to the ground from the doorway to the hallway and into the parking garage. One of her friends called the police on Dyer because the violence was so extreme, according to the file.
When they arrived at the Second District where her arrest was going to be processed, she told Dyer he used unreasonable force on her. He responded he could “use as much force as he wanted to use on her,” according to the Internal Affairs report.
She was handcuffed to the bench while Dyer wrote his affidavit. As she sat there, other male officers came by and said she should have just paid for the pizza. She said in the complaint that it made her feel uncomfortable since she was the only woman in the squad room at the time. Before she left, she said she wanted to make a complaint but that Dyer’s supervisor told her she needed to go to Internal Affairs.
She eventually did. Despite witnesses that contradicted the account Dyer gave and a message from Domino’s management that the pizza had been paid for, the complaint was not sustained. Then-Chief Dabbadie signed off on it.
And Percle, who, nearly a decade after getting his teeth stomped out, has never had his case investigated by Internal Affairs.
“I was an LSU student. I was a taxpayer in Baton Rouge. I paid the university very well. I was a top student. I had scholarships,” Percle said. “I wasn’t a bad person. But this is what they did to me, like, you know what I mean? This is how they treated me. And I was doing everything right.”
‘The police did it.’
The last thing Percle did when he had all his teeth was mix a song.
Percle loved music. He played in a band and was into music production. He was sitting at a small table in a friend’s house working on the song when it happened. He can’t remember the name of the song. All the music was destroyed that day.
Without warning, men dressed in tactical gear, some with faces covered in balaclavas, kicked the door in and stormed the house. They were armed with semi-automatic M4 carbines, an intimidating-looking rifle. Percle didn’t know it at the time, but the men were members of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s Special Response Team, executing a raid on a suspected drug house.
Narcotics Detective Jason Acree had obtained a search warrant for the house just beyond the city limits of Baton Rouge. He was outside as the SRT unit executed its mission and secured the property.
Moruzzi was a member of that team.
According to Percle and a federal lawsuit, Moruzzi charged toward him.
“Get the f*** down,” Moruzzi screamed.
Terrified, Percle said he leapt from his chair and dived to the floor. He remembers his face being inches from the ground in a prone position when he felt it.
A boot struck the back of his skull with such force that his head ricocheted off the floor. He lost his four front teeth. Some dangled by a thread, others lay on the floor mixed with shards from a shattered glass table. His white shirt had turned red, soaked with blood.
“It looks like someone was murdered, that’s how much blood there was,” he said in an interview years later. “I’m swallowing my teeth. I’m literally coughing on them. I see them in pieces in front of me.”
Percle faced no charges that day or after. His friend whose house and whose marijuana prompted the raid was hauled away in cuffs. Percle was left behind after a medic on the scene pulled pieces of glass from his arm and his stomach, bandaged him up and told him to find a therapist.
As he stood there, what he’d just experienced ran through his head. The fear that coursed through his body and the pain he felt when his face was smashed into the ground. He heard the discordant sounds of the officers playing the musical instruments after the raid and remembered the humiliation of being strip searched and how unnerved he felt when one officer said to him, “Oh, you must have tripped,” after looking at his busted and bleeding face.
He called 911.
Percle recounted the call. He’d just been beaten up, he told the dispatcher. Who did it? the dispatcher replied.
“‘The police did it,’ I said. “‘They just raided this house. They came in and they kicked my teeth,’” he said.
The 911 operator advised him to put his teeth in milk to preserve them.
“And that’s the first thing that I did,” Percle said. “I took my teeth, put it in milk and put it in the fridge.”
The Roux House Rashomon
Percle might still have his teeth and never have encountered Moruzzi if not for a wrinkle in the corporal’s career.
An internal affairs investigation, #094-09, comprised of witness statements, interviews, police reports, and surveillance and dashcam footage as well as law enforcement sources’ detail what occurred.
The two principals involved, Andrew Biemer, manager of the Roux House, and Moruzzi, wouldn’t comment about the incident.
A little after 2 a.m. on Nov. 12, 2009, Moruzzi and his friend and fellow officer, Jeff Belcher, were leaving Happy’s Irish Bar in downtown Baton Rouge, their second and last stop after hours of drinking. Moruzzi was, by his own admission, drunk. He noticed a political banner fixed to the Roux House Bar & Grill on the other side of the street. It encouraged voters to “VOTE YES!” to then-Mayor-President Kip Holden’s $901 million bond proposal. Moruzzi joked to Belcher that he was “going to own that sign.”
Belcher called him a “dumb ass” and warned him there was an “eye in the sky” – a surveillance camera – by the Roux House. Moruzzi ignored him and strolled across the street and started to take down the sign.
Biemer was sitting on the patio with two waitresses unwinding after a busy night when he heard a commotion. He stepped out and told Moruzzi to stop destroying the bar’s property or he would call the cops.
“Call the cops,” Moruzzi yelled. “I am the cops. Try to stop me. I’ll f***ing kill you.”
Face to face, Biemer pushed Moruzzi to the ground. Moruzzi jumped back up and rushed on Biemer, punching him as he advanced.
Minutes later a call came into 911 that someone had pulled a gun on the Roux House’s manager.
The eye in the sky
Belcher was right. There was an eye in the sky. Security video captured the confrontation that led to Moruzzi getting fired from the department. It shows the officers outside Happy’s, Moruzzi crossing the street and attempting to tear down the political banner, and Biemer approaching Moruzzi.
The two men briefly exchange words before Biemer shoves Moruzzi who sails through the air and lands on the street. Moruzzi jumps up and rushes at Biemer. The men fight, with Moruzzi throwing a number of punches. Then Belcher races over to try to break it up.
While the video doesn’t capture all of what happened, to a witness, a waitress who risked her life trying to break up the fight, it was crystal clear. The waitress, whose name was redacted in the file, told Internal Affairs investigators she, another waitress and Biemer were hanging out on the patio when they heard a commotion.
“Let them call the police,” Moruzzi shouted.
A voice replied, “Stop. Come on. Get in the car. Let’s go.”
Biemer left first to check on the commotion. As the fight escalated, the waitress left the patio.
She told Internal Affairs investigators she thought that if she could get between the two brawling men, she could defuse the situation.
“She felt she could convince Moruzzi to leave so nothing bad would happen,” the report reads.
The waitress informed Sgt. Anthony Payne that, as she walked toward them, Moruzzi reached toward his hip and pulled out his weapon. The off-duty officer’s holster fell to the ground. The waitress stated that when Moruzzi pulled his weapon, it was like he was pointing the weapon toward Biemer in an upward direction, so she stepped in between them, and the weapon was then on her. She said Belcher knocked the gun out of Moruzzi’s hand. She reached down to pick it up because she was scared it would go off.
But the moment involving Moruzzi’s gun, a black .308, is obscured in the footage. The fight moves under the marquee of the Roux House, and so the moment when his gun is produced is not clear.
What is clear in the video is the waitress bending down to pick up the gun and running off with it. The gun ended up with the manager of Happy’s, a former law enforcement officer. He unloaded the gun and eventually gave it to Belcher, who put it in the bed of his pickup.
Meanwhile, footage shows the fight continuing. After multiple attempts Belcher finally got Moruzzi into the truck, at one point putting him into a bear hug and lifting him off the ground like a parent would deal with a child throwing a tantrum.
Moruzzi tried to get out of the truck several times.
“Try and fight me, and I will kill you,” he shouted at Biemer, the report says.
“Pull the gun on me one more time and see what happens,” Biemer shouted back.
In a statement made later to police, Biemer remembered Moruzzi telling him, “You have no idea who you are messing with. Remember my face. I am going to come back for you.”
The waitress tried to calm Moruzzi.
“You are making yourself look really bad right now,” she pleaded. “You just need to get into the truck.”
Moruzzi wasn’t having it.
“Girl, this doesn’t concern you,” he said, “I just want to fight him so go home.”
“You need to be the bigger person,” she continued. “You need to get in the truck and go.”
He did not heed her advice. He was still there when police squad cars rolled up.
The criminal investigation resulted in Moruzzi being charged with attempted theft, simple assault, simple battery, aggravated assault, and disturbing the peace. More serious criminal charges were considered but never filed, according to law enforcement sources.
Internal Affairs also investigated the incident and, for once, found the complaints to be sustained.
Moruzzi was fired on March 12, 2010, for violating department policy 2:10, Conduct Unbecoming a Police Officer.
The language of the violation reads:
“Every member of the department, whether on or off duty, in an official or unofficial capacity, must conduct himself at all times in such a manner as to set a good example for all others with whom he may come in contact. He shall in no way through actions or neglect, bring dishonor or disgrace upon himself or the Baton Rouge Police Department.”
But as Percle and Jed Bricker, an LSU cheerleader and college student who was shot with a Taser by Moruzzi in 2013, later found out, that termination was not terminal.
‘Would you feel any different?’
Moruzzi has always maintained he did not pull his gun that night.
In one account from audio recorded on the dashcam of a patrol car that responded to the 911 call, he said he threw the gun to the ground because it was falling out of his pants while he and Biemer fought. In his statement to Internal Affairs and years later in depositions, he said the gun fell from his pants during the fight. In both versions, the gun never leaves its holster.
After his interview with Internal Affairs, Biemer declined to press charges.
“Biemer said he was told that Officer Moruzzi was a good police officer and that this was a bad situation and that he was under the influence of alcohol,” Detective Congalona Kersh’s report reads. “I (Connie) then asked the question: ‘Police officer aside and say he is not the police, and the same situation happened with someone else, would your thinking be any different? If an average citizen came out there, pulled down the sign, threatened you and pulled out a gun, would you feel any different?’
“Biemer said he would feel different.”
As the interview was coming to an end, Biemer started to say, “officers were concerned about how this would aff …” but he trailed off before finishing. So Kersh asked him directly.
“When asked how it would affect the police department, or how it would make the department look. (Biemer) said there was a lot of people … there was concern that there was acknowledgment that MORUZZI screwed up, but at the same token that this was atypical behavior.”
Back on the street
Moruzzi appealed his termination.
His civil service hearing was scheduled for October 2010, but before the hearing could take place, Moruzzi and his lawyer, Charlie Dirks, came to an agreement with then-Police Chief Jeff LeDuff and his counsel. Moruzzi’s termination would be downgraded to a suspension, and he would be hired back on the force.
According to Moruzzi’s testimony given under oath in 2015 during a deposition for the LSU cheerleader’s case, his reinstatement came down to two things:
The chief didn’t want to sit through Moruzzi’s appeal hearing because he needed to visit his sister, who had been diagnosed with cancer. And LeDuff knew he was going to lose. His previous inconsistencies in the internal affairs process and disciplinary action had come back to bite him. Moruzzi’s lawyer had dug up other comparable “officer involved incidents,” Moruzzi said in his 2015 deposition. One officer had received no punishment and the other a light punishment.
LeDuff and Moruzzi both declined to comment for this story.
Moruzzi was rehired on Nov. 30, 2010, just more than a year after the incident at the Roux House. By mid-December he was back out on patrol. Within three years he was accused of another use of force violation.
In August 2013, he used a Taser on Bricker, who had drunk too much during a hazing event. Bricker refused medical treatment. In response, Moruzzi handcuffed him to a stretcher, choked him unconscious and punched him in the face, according to sources familiar with the incident. After he was loaded into the ambulance, Moruzzi gave him a stern lecture about not drinking too much and being a better son to his parents.
Bricker, 19 at the time, was savvy enough to take pictures of his injuries. But having grown up in Brooklyn, he didn’t know how to navigate the system of accountability in Baton Rouge, so he never filed an Internal Affairs report, and the department never initiated one on its own.
Joseph Long, a civil rights attorney who represented Bricker, said he never put any stock in Internal Affairs reports. It was a waste of time, he said, since officers never get into trouble.
“It’s like a joke to even worry about it,” he said.
So, he didn’t pursue one in Bricker’s case. Long instead tried to show in court what the officers did and the lack of initiating discipline within the department.
Nearly a year after the incident, Bricker filed a civil case against Moruzzi, where he alleged the officer had violated his 4th and 14th Amendment rights by committing police brutality and kidnapping him among other complaints. The police department argued Bricker forfeited his right to sue when he agreed to a pretrial diversionary program in exchange for getting his underage drinking charge dismissed from that night.
The judge agreed with the police, and the case was thrown out.
Bricker dropped out of school, sought therapy and left Baton Rouge for good. He has never been back.
The settlement that allowed Moruzzi to return to the force said any future disciplinary action would be scrutinized, and that both the incident with Bricker and Percle should have warranted administrative investigations.
Moruzzi is still on the force. He patrols Baton Rouge from the skies in a helicopter. Until the beginning of 2022, he ran the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. Officers appealing their discipline or termination from the department bring their case in front of him and the rest of the board for review. Moruzzi served on the board for seven years with his most recent re-election occurring during the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020.
No further action taken
Percle didn’t stop trying to get some accountability for what happened. He tried several times to get Internal Affairs to conduct a use-of-force investigation into Moruzzi.
“The levels that they went to in my case,” Percle said years later. “It defies real logic and reality.”
He called the department the day after he got his teeth stomped out and then repeatedly over the next few weeks trying to get in touch with Internal Affairs investigator Orscini Beard. Records produced in his civil trial show he called several times in the weeks after the incident and that no one ever called him back. It got to the point where the receptionist knew who he was and why he was calling.
There is no evidence that Internal Affairs interviewed the other officers there the day Percles said Moruzzi stomped on his head, the other people in the house during the raid, the paramedics who showed up or Jason Acree, the narcotics officer in charge that day. Nor did they review Percle’s 911 call.
In the two years between the incident and his ride with his cousin to headquarters after the trial, this is what Internal Affairs did do:
The investigative paper trail begins on the day after the incident in 2014 with a note scribbled on Baton Rouge Police Department stationery dated June 12, 10:43 a.m. The message recipient is Beard. There is a box with a checkmark in it that reads “telephoned.” The body of the message begins with “Ofc. J. Acree,” the name of the narcotics officer who ordered the raid that day, but the rest is obscured by a note written on a Post-It or another piece of paper that appears to then have been photocopied together with the original note when the documents were submitted for discovery. The scrawl reads: “Spoke w/frn Percle on 6/12 @ 13:26 hrs @ work will call back later.”
Next is an Internal Affairs Accountability Form. The IAD number for the case is listed as N/A.
The incident time, the officers involved, and the nature of the allegation are listed as unknown. The incident location, listed as “BR, LA,” is incorrect since the raid was outside Baton Rouge’s city limits.
On the part of the form reserved for the internal affairs officer to detail what action he has taken the following message was written:
“I/O,” – police shorthand for investigating officer – “received message from secretary to contact the complainant via office desk phone. I/O called complainant via IAD Office desk phone on 6/12/14 at 1336 hrs. Upon contacting Mr. Percle. He advised I/O that he was at his place of employment and would rather talk at later date and time.”
At the bottom of the form, Beard noted, “Will speak with Mr. Percle upon his re-contact.”
But Percle said he never received that call. Beard, the Internal Affairs officer, had testified in court that he did call Percle back. But according to phone records, there never was a call.
Percle’s lawyer, Kearney Loughlin, pulled all the phone records for that time period and never once did the police department call Percle.
“Nothing really happened,” Loughlin said. “It was Brett making calls, ‘Oh, you got to talk to Orscini Beard, you got to talk to him.’ He gets on the stand and lies saying, ‘Well, yeah, as I recall, I called him back and then Brett just never followed up again. So no, I didn’t do anything.’ Well, here’s the phone records.”
Loughlin, who regularly takes on police abuse cases, said this is a common tactic he’s encountered with the Baton Rouge Police Department and other law enforcement agencies in Louisiana that are trying to avoid accountability. He said they set up a complicated internal affairs process and then have tried to blame the victim for not following some idiosyncratic bureaucratic minutiae.
“You had these procedures, you’re not going to tell anybody about it because you don’t want people to comply with it because you want to be able to quash the complaint,” he said. “Flush it down the toilet.”
After winning in court, and after being hustled out of headquarters by Internal Affairs Sgt. Young in 2016, Percle received his final explanation for the department’s justification for not looking into his case or Moruzzi. The document has a subhead that reads “Synopsis.” In office language, it sums up the confrontation at headquarters.
It states Percle asked for an investigation into Moruzzi. Then it notes Young called the department’s in-house attorney, Kim Brooks, who told him that since Percle did not respond to Beard back in 2014, the case exceeded the 60-day period required by the Officer’s Bill of Rights.
“Attorney Brooks also advised that due to Percle failing to make a criminal complaint back in 2014, any type of battery or assault complaint would be prescribed,” the memo read.
It is only in this, the final formal document from the Internal Affairs division, that “Robert Moruzzi, Special Response Team” was named, and that Percle’s complaint is assigned a number: IAD #030-16. It is also the document that ensured to the complainant that every avenue of accountability both internally and criminally were closed to him.
The last line of the document made that clear: “No further action taken.”
It took Percle a long time to get over what happened. There were the painful and expensive surgeries and long therapy sessions that often felt like they were going nowhere. His mental health suffered. There was a stretch where he struggled to hold down a job. There were periods of homelessness.
He would obsess about the day of the raid, he said, the preposterous process of working with Internal Affairs and the changing stories they would give him. He would even think about the one tooth that the doctors said they could have saved – the one that he put in the glass of milk –– had he been able to get to the hospital sooner.
Thoughts of suicide would grip him in the middle of the night.
He admits there was a stretch where he felt sorry for himself.
“I don’t think it was really until the past two to three years that I was really able to take back control of my life,” he said.
He has left that self-pity behind him, he said.
“Instead of me sitting here and complaining about it,” he said, “I’m going to try to change it.”
Percle felt a certain satisfaction when Jason Acree, the detective who ordered the raid, got arrested and swept up in a corruption scandal that led to the dissolution of the police department’s narcotics squad.
He earned his law degree in 2021 and passed the Louisiana bar soon after. Now he’s in private practice. He wants to start a foundation to help people like himself who were hurt by the government and left to fend for themselves. He wants to establish scholarships for young people who were the victims of police brutality, or other government overreach so they can go to school like he did, and fight back against the system instead of just feeling helplessly crushed by it.
When you get your teeth knocked out, Percle explained, it’s not just one surgery and then it’s fixed. With his bridge, the pain lingers. Sometimes it roars back with a vengeance. Every five years or so you have to go back and get another surgery. And it goes like that for the rest of your life. Recently, Percle has been thinking about getting rid of his bridge for good. He’s finally ready to leave the pain in the past.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Baton Rouge recorded 149 homicides in 2021. That was the number for East Baton Rouge Parish. The city of Baton Rouge recorded 122 homicides that year. The story has been updated.
This investigative series was produced with the support of Freelance Investigative Reporters and Editors (FIRE), with additional support provided by The Fund for Investigative Journalism.
Barbara Gray, a research methods professor who oversees the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s Research Center, contributed to this report.
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