When Murphy Paul took over as chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department in early 2018, one of his first major public decisions was whether to fire Blane Salamoni, the officer who fatally shot Alton Sterling in a convenience store parking lot in the summer of 2016.
The shooting set off widespread street protests, mass arrests and sparked a gunman to seek revenge by shooting and killing three law enforcement officers and injuring three others, one of whom died a year later.
Paul took office with a promise to overhaul the department’s dysfunctional Internal Affairs Division, hold officers accountable for misconduct and restore public trust in local policing. He faced intense scrutiny for how he would resolve the Salamoni issue, especially after state and federal officials declined to pursue charges.
His decision to fire Salamoni would trigger a civil war.
It would pit Paul against rank-and-file officers, union leaders, former BRPD chiefs and others who fiercely resisted the new administration’s efforts to change the department’s culture.
The battles offer insight for prospects of police reform across the rest of the nation. Baton Rouge had its “George Floyd moment” – social media scrutiny, mass protests and violence – nearly four years before Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The future of police reform in Baton Rouge grows more uncertain with news that Paul will be resigning as chief in November and revelations of yet another scandal within the BRPD. This case involves a warehouse – nicknamed the “BRAVE Cave” – where officers allegedly detained, questioned and strip-searched suspects without warrants or probable cause.
After publishing “In The Dark,” a five-part in-depth series looking into the lack of accountability in BRPD Internal Affairs, Verite News is again partnering with investigative reporters Clarissa Sosin and Daryl Khan to examine what is happening within one of the state’s largest law enforcement agencies.
As with the first part of “In The Dark,” the investigation relies on a review of thousands of official documents and dozens of interviews with the parties involved.
Change has not come easily. Paul has been the target of a number of threats and conspiracies.
Is this what the rest of America can expect? “In the Dark Part II” begins on Wednesday (Oct. 11).
This series was supported by the Pulitzer Center.
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