Attorneys for Ternell Brown allege she was "forcibly" taken by officers to an unmarked police facility and subjected to body cavity searches without her consent
A 47-year-old Louisiana woman has filed a lawsuit alleging she was sexually humiliated by police officers who performed a body cavity search on her without her consent at an unmarked Baton Rouge police facility, which was permanently closed two weeks ago after allegations of abuse came to light.
On Sept. 18, Ternell Brown filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, claiming she was taken to the alleged “torture warehouse” on June 10 after she was stopped by patrol officer while in the car with her husband. Her attorneys say the officers searched Brown’s car without consent, and that the officers claimed it was illegal to have different prescription medication in the same pill container, according to the complaint, which was reviewed by PEOPLE.
“Mrs. Brown informed the officers a minimum of four times that she is in lawful possession of the pills as they had been prescribed to her,” the lawsuit, which also names the city and Police Chief Murphy Paul Jr., states.
Her attorneys say her possession of the pills is not illegal. They claim that despite her pleas to officers, Brown was “forcibly” taken to the “Brave Cave,” a purported unmarked facility where members of the police department’s Street Crimes Unit “take suspects to interrogate them, gather intelligence, and attempt to 'flip' them to begin cooperating with BRPD.”
According to the lawsuit, the officers took Brown there because they suspected she might be “involved in illegal drug activity” and had to determine whether there was “probable cause” to arrest her.
Brown’s attorneys say she was held at the facility for over two hours, during which at least three officers — two of whom are identified in the lawsuit as Troy Lawrence Jr. and Matthew Wallace — allegedly subjected her to strip and body cavity searches without her consent.
The defendants allegedly “forced her to spread her vagina and buttocks for inspection and examined her vagina using a flashlight,” the lawsuit says. Brown was eventually released from the facility without any charges. Following her release Brown tried to file a complaint in person at police headquarters but was allegedly told “the officers had done nothing wrong and that her treatment was proper,” per the suit.
Brown is the second person to have filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department and the city in recent weeks.
In a separate lawsuit filed on Aug. 29, Jeremy Lee, 21, alleged he was taken to the “Brave Cave” on Jan. 9 and was beaten so badly by officers that “the local jail refused to admit him until he was treated by a nearby hospital.” He reportedly suffered multiple broken bones and other injuries, and was never charged with a crime. The ordeal was captured on body-camera footage.
Like Brown’s filing, Lee’s filing names officers Lawrence Jr. and Wallace among the defendants.
Both lawsuits allege that Lawrence Jr., the son of BRPD Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence, has a history of complaints.
“Numerous incidents have involved Troy Lawrence Jr. needless escalating ordinary encounters, strip-searching Black citizens, and responding to criticism with violence,” Brown’s attorneys said in her lawsuit.
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Referring to Wallace, Brown’s filing alleges he “has also been investigated several times by Internal Affairs, including one recent incident involving a ‘death in custody.’”
According to Lee’s filing, Lawrence Jr. resigned from the job in late August. The status of Wallace's employment is unclear.
NBC News, citing Police Chief Murphy Paul Jr., that Lawrence Jr. was arrested this week on suspicion of battery in a separate incident that allegedly took place while he was still on the force. It’s unclear if Lawrence Jr. has been formally charged, or if he has an attorney to speak on his behalf.
In response to the lawsuits, L’Jean McNeely, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, provided a statement to PEOPLE on Friday.
"The Baton Rouge Police Department is committed to addressing these troubling accusations and has initiated administrative and criminal investigations," the statement reads. "Chief Paul met with FBI officials and requested their assistance to ensure an independent review of these complaints. The Narcotics Processing Facility has been permanently closed and the Street Crimes Unit has been disbanded and reassigned."
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