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A Black teenager not wearing his seatbelt ended up arrested, face-down on the pavement with a cop's knee allegedly on his neck, after an hourlong car chase by multiple cop cars through the streets of Baton Rouge. Now, a year later, the teen’s mother has filed a federal lawsuit against the officers involved in the arrest as well as the department for using excessive force on her child.
Tenesha Cannon says that law enforcement crossed the line when they arrested her 16-year-old son, identified only as “D.C.” following a police chase on July 6, 2020. She alleges in her lawsuit that instead of handcuffing the teen and taking him away, police pushed him to the ground and applied the controversial maneuver for more than 30 seconds. She also says that her son, who has asthma, had to wear a neck brace as a result of the arrest.
With the arrest coming about a month after George Floyd’s death and involving an alleged neck restraint, the case received national attention from news outlets like The Advocate as well as the likes of civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
“It is unconscionable and reprehensible that less than two months after George Floyd was murdered by an illegal police tactic, the Baton Rouge Police would use that maneuver against a child,” Christoper Murell, an attorney representing the Cannon family, told VICE News.
In addition to suing the officers involved in the arrest, Cannon is suing Baton Rouge Chief Murphy Paul, and the city of Baton Rouge for their part in creating an environment that allows this kind of policing to take place.
“Numerous state and federal lawsuits against BRPD demonstrate a pattern, custom, and practice of excessive use of force, especially against people of color,” the lawsuit explains. “BRPD has a long history of not properly disciplining or firing officers when they engage in illegal or improper conduct, including excessive use of force and improper deadly use of force.”
D.C. was a passenger in a vehicle that police officer Travis Williams flagged down for a seatbelt violation, according to Cannon’s lawsuit, filed earlier this week. The driver allegedly did not pull over, prompting Williams to call for backup and chase after it, and as many as 16 officers joined in pursuit, according to the lawsuit.
“The pursuit was mainly through residential areas, clearly against BRPD policy and putting the public at great risk over an alleged seatbelt violation,” the lawsuit reads. “Nevertheless, no officers called it off. D.C. remained as a passenger and was never in control of the car or its operation.”
However, police confirmed to VICE News in an email that the driver of the vehicle “ignored multiple traffic signals” after refusing to pull over.
After a nearly hourlong chase, the driver of the car finally pulled over. The driver put his hands up and remained in the car while D.C. exited the vehicle and got down on his knees, also with his hands up. Three of the officers that were chasing the car approached the driver with their weapons drawn and carried out the arrest without issue.
It was much different when officers walked over to the passenger side. Though D.C. was unarmed and showing no resistance, officers pushed him to the pavement, pointed a gun at his face, and yanked his arms back to handcuff them as another officer kneeled on his neck for half a minute, according to the lawsuit.
“D.C. informed the officers that he has asthma, to which one of the officers can be heard on body-camera footage replying, ‘I don’t give a damn,’” the lawsuit says.
Baton Rouge police contend that the officer’s knee was on D.C.'s back. However, the lawsuit says that police body camera footage and bystander video shows the officer clearly kneeling on the boy's neck.
“At this time BRPD is not going to comment on specific allegations in the lawsuit due to pending litigation,” Baton Rouge Police Department spokesperson told VICE News.
In recent years, the Baton Rouge police department has been the subject of several high-profile instances of alleged police brutality. Earlier this year, the department started an investigation into the brutal arrest of a 13-year-old boy, in which an officer employed the use of a chokehold. That same month, the Baton Rouge city council approved a $4.5 million settlement with the family of Alton Sterling, a Black man shot and killed by police while he was selling CDs outside a convenience store in 2016.
“The Baton Rouge Police keep promising accountability, yet we find ourselves as a community here again and again in the same situation,” Murrell said. “This must change now. We all must demand justice for this child and all those others harassed, abused, and wrongfully arrested by BRPD.”