Part 5 of 5
Credit: Photo by Clarissa Sosin/Graphic design by Adriana Garcia

BATON ROUGE – Rosalyn Scott’s purpose at the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters was part political stunt, part personal mission. 

It was the first anniversary of the July 5, 2016, killing of Alton Sterling by Officer Blane Salamoni. Scott and about 30 other people, mostly members of the New Black Panther Party, had arrived at the police headquarters’ expansive parking lot on the corner of Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard. They were there with two goals in mind: to protest Sterling’s death and to file complaints with Internal Affairs about the department’s treatment of protesters a year earlier in the wake of his fatal shooting. 

Officers confronted them as they tried to approach the building, Scott said. It was private property, the officers told them, and they would not be allowed to enter.

“Well, if this is a private place,” Scott said she told the police, “then y’all are mercenaries.”

The officers brought out barricades, she said. Don’t cross the line, they ordered the group. And then more officers arrived. 

“We never cross the little set-up they had. We never crossed it,” Scott said. “They opened it up and started snatching us and beating us.”

Video of the incident shows a chaotic scene. Officers move a barrier into place while protesters, standing on the other side of it, back up. Suddenly, there are screams as officers grab protesters, arresting them. One officer advances steadily toward the crowd and begins firing rubber bullets. 

Seven people were arrested that day on misdemeanor charges – Scott was one of them. The charges were ultimately dropped.

In local news coverage of the event, the department said the protesters had been pushing through the barricade after being told to leave multiple times.

Scott’s ordeal is one of many cases reviewed by reporters as part of the In the Dark investigation into the Baton Rouge Police Department’s internal affairs process. Scott never filed a complaint with Internal Affairs, and her odyssey in trying to file one illustrates how often residents are too discouraged or too intimidated to bring their complaints forward for official review. 

The police department declined to comment on this case because the incident occurred under a different police chief. It also declined to make the officers involved in this story available for interviews. The police chief at the time, Carl Dabadie, did not respond to requests for interviews.

The Baton Rouge Police Department Headquarters on Airline Highway where Rosalyn Scott and her fellow protesters were arrested on July 5, 2017 –– the year anniversary of the killing of Alton Sterling by police. Credit: Clarissa Sosin

Scott said that, amid the chaos of that day, she was knocked to the ground. An officer then pinned her down, his gun pressed into her back. She lie there, too terrified to move even though her leg hurt. She said she could feel the hard muzzle of the gun digging into her back. Around her, she watched as her fellow protesters were shot with rubber bullets. 

“All I was saying to myself is ‘I hope he don’t pull the trigger,’” she remembered thinking. “‘I hope he don’t pull that.’ I was actually crying.” 

An officer handcuffed her with plastic zip ties and brought her inside to wait to be transported to the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. 

The officer who had put the plastic ties around her wrists did it incorrectly, Scott said, so they fell off while she waited. No one noticed she was free until they asked her to stand up. 

“Where your straps?” Scott remembered the officers asking. 

“They sitting on the bench,” she replied. “They fell off.”

The realization enraged the officers. 

“They pushed me, shoved me. ‘Oh, we getting you for simple escape!’” she said they told her. “I say, ‘Simple escape – where did I go?’”

The officer cuffed her again, this time with metal handcuffs. They tightened them so much, she said, that her hands began to go numb. She asked them to loosen them. 

“No, you already got out the first one,” she said they replied. 

It wasn’t until Scott arrived at the parish prison that she got any relief. A sheriff’s deputy took pity on her. 

“She took them completely off. It was like my wrist was about to bleed. And she was like, ‘Why would they put that on you tight like that?’” Scott said. 

Twelve hours later, she was released. 

That incident was so harrowing she never returned to headquarters. 

“I didn’t even try to go make a complaint. Nothing after that, because I just didn’t want no dealings with them,” she said. “I actually thought I was going to die that day.” 

She said she now regrets not taking action. If you file a complaint, she said, at least you can try to hold the department accountable after the fact if they do nothing about it.  

“Make them do what they’re supposed to do,” she said.  

But she understands why others don’t file complaints. It can feel futile, something she knows from personal experience.

In the ‘90s, she went to the old police headquarters on Mayflower and filed a complaint after an encounter with a notorious officer known throughout the city by the nickname “Bruh Stupid.” 

“Bruh Stupid” has a long history of complaints, both filed with the department and not. Over the years he’s been accused of beating people, stealing their drugs and money, and driving them around and dropping them far from where he found them. Everyone from teenagers to the elderly, and from criminals to elected officials have reported having what they described as a troubling encounter with the officer. 

The officer had pulled her over on her way back from the store where she had just used her food stamps for the month to purchase groceries for her children. He didn’t give her a reason for the stop. The officer ordered her to open her trunk so he could search her car. He deliberately threw her groceries onto the street, she said. 

“Bitch, use that dope money and get some more,” she recalled Bruh Stupid saying when she protested. 

Scott left the encounter without a ticket or a charge. He found no drugs in her car or any other contraband. She said it was just another instance of the kind of harassment for which he had become notorious across the city.

A mural in North Baton Rouge, “For the Mothers of the Fallen,” connects prominent civil rights lynchings like Emmett Till’s to modern-day police killings like Alton Sterling’s. Credit: Clarissa Sosin

She filed a complaint, she said, but nothing ever came of it. And she was stuck trying to figure out how to feed her children until the next month’s food stamps arrived.

“If they took those complaints more serious, we can move forward. But by them just brushing them under the counter – you go, you file a report,” she said. “No consequences, no nothing.” 

Scott doesn’t have much hope the department will be able to reform itself. For a while, she had a good working relationship with the department’s Uniform Patrol commander, Capt. Kevin Newman. But he retired, and the hope he brought her went with him. 

“I don’t even know if I can trust the police ever again,” she said. 

Newman did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Whenever Scott sees a police interaction on the street she films it. She even keeps an eye out on social media. 

One time she came across a livestream on Facebook of a young Black man who had just been stopped by the police. She immediately began commenting on his Facebook feed, making sure he knew his rights. She told him to get the officer’s badge number and name. When the officer demanded identification, she told the young man to ask if he was being detained. 

“I couldn’t type fast enough. I was making mistakes. Spelling stuff wrong,” she said. “I don’t even know where this guy was from.” 

The young man, who was ultimately let go by the officer, sent Scott a direct message afterward thanking her for her guidance. 

“As a young Black man, you need to learn your rights,” she responded. 

“You don’t know whether to tell them to run. You don’t know whether to tell them to stand there. Both is bad. If you Black, you can stand and get beat. You can run and get killed.”

Rosalyn Scott

Scott said she has made sure her children and grandchildren know their rights if they ever have an encounter with the police – especially her teenage grandson, Markel. But it’s difficult to know how to advise them because nothing seems safe. She’s not sure which is the lesser of two evils when a Black person encounters the police.

“You don’t know whether to tell them to run. You don’t know whether to tell them to stand there. Both is bad,” she said. “If you Black, you can stand and get beat. You can run and get killed.”

And she worries that knowing their rights will backfire, especially for Markel.

“He’s very vocal because he’s been around me,” she said. “And that scares me.” 

Scott wants to leave Baton Rouge with her family. She feels squeezed between the police and the rise in crime. It doesn’t feel safe.

On March 27, 2018, the day that Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced that there would be no charges against the BRPD officers involved in the 2016 death of Alton Sterling, Rosalyn Scott was one of a handful of activists to show up in front of the Triple S Food Mart in North Baton Rouge where Sterling was killed. Credit: Clarissa Sosin

She lives with her daughter – who was paralyzed in a domestic violence incident and requires 24-hour care – and her two grandchildren in North Baton Rouge. Last year she moved with them to a new neighborhood after there was a spate of shootings and break-ins in their old one. But she soon discovered she couldn’t escape the crime and the violence. 

“It’s just everywhere. The violence is just everywhere,” she said. “We don’t go too much out like we used to, like once the streetlights and stuff start coming on. We just stay home.” 

Gunshots ring out through the night air when they go to bed, she said. Her grandson has his own bedroom in the back of the house but he sleeps with his mom or his sister or with Scott herself. They fear stray bullets.

Scott said she knows one older woman who won’t leave her home or let anyone visit her after 3 p.m. She wants to tell her it’s OK, that she’s being overly cautious, but can’t.

“I can’t tell you nothing to be scared – there’s a lot to be scared of. It’s a lot to be afraid of,” she said. 

She did call the police once for help. Her grandson had gotten into a fight with another boy in the neighborhood. They were playing basketball when the argument began. The boy pushed Markel who, in turn, punched the boy in the face and busted his lip. Later that day, the boy showed up at Scott’s house with his older brother. 

The older brother brought a gun.

Scott called the police. They didn’t show up for 30 minutes. 

“I could have been dead and Markel could have been dead,” she said.

By the time the police arrived, the brothers had left, taking the gun with them. Scott refused to file a report with the officers because they arrived so late. They threatened to charge her with filing a false report but in the end left without doing anything. 

Later that day, the mother of the boys came to her house. Scott told her that her son had brandished a gun. The mom was shocked. 

Scott said the problem with a lack of faith in the police is that it leads to an erosion in trust.

“The crime is still bad because the police are still bad,” said Scott.

Between the police and the general violence of Baton Rouge, Scott has decided to take matters into her own hands. She is making sure her grandkids are trained to handle any situation. 

Rosalyn Scott and her grandchildren pose with guns at a New Black Panther self-defense training held in Alabama in the summer of 2020. Credit: Photo courtesy Rosalyn Scott

A couple of years ago she took her grandson and granddaughter to Alabama for a weekend for a workshop hosted by the New Black Panthers. They learned outdoor survival skills –– how to sleep outdoors, how to build a fire, how to cook over an open flame. 

And, they learned how to use different weapons. 

Scott listed them off: .223 assault weapon, a 9-millimeter, a .38, and even knives. 

“It was kind of just like teaching them their rights and teaching them how to protect themselves against whoever,” Scott said. “So, the thing was to teach them how to use different things to protect their self out here in the streets of Louisiana, because you need it, you really need it.”

She posted photos on Facebook after the training. Her granddaughter holds a hot pink rifle. Her grandson, a handgun.  

She and her grandkids are ready for nearly anything now. She installed an alarm system, surveillance cameras and extra locks on her doors. 

“If you come through there and you don’t say ‘police,’ you don’t say nothing, I’m killing you. Because I’ve got a paralyzed daughter and I have my two grandkids here. I’m not caring because you shouldn’t have bust through my door,” she said. “That’s why you have to be trained. That’s why you have to be trained.” 

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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Clarissa Sosin is a multimedia investigative journalist concentrating on justice and civil rights abuses. Her work focuses on policing and the criminal justice system in New York City and the South. She’s...

Daryl Khan is an investigative reporter who began his career in New York City covering criminal justice and the war on terror as a reporter for the Boston Globe, The New York Times and New York Newsday....