A recent lawsuit filed against the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) alleges the existence of a “torture warehouse” where members of its Street Crimes Unit engaged in abusive practices. The lawsuit claims that individuals were subjected to strip searches, beatings, and humiliation before being released without charges. The warehouse, known as “the BRAVE Cave,” has since been closed.
Following the filing of the lawsuit, an investigation was launched into the allegations of misconduct at the BRAVE Cave. In late September, members of the Street Crimes Unit, including BRPD Deputy Chief Troy Lawrence Sr., were arrested on unrelated misconduct charges. Lawrence Sr. was charged with malfeasance, principal to obstruction, principal to battery, and principal to theft. His son, Troy Lawrence Jr., who is at the center of the federal lawsuit, is also facing termination from the BRPD.
The federal lawsuit accuses Troy Lawrence Jr. of taking a 47-year-old grandmother to the BRAVE Cave, where she was allegedly subjected to strip searches, cavity searches, and sexual humiliation. Earlier this month, a federal judge overseeing a separate BRAVE Cave lawsuit ordered the Baton Rouge Police Department to preserve evidence related to the warehouse, as attorneys for the plaintiff accused the BRPD of refusing to preserve or actively destroying video evidence.
The Street Crimes Unit, which operated the BRAVE Cave, has an unusual origin as it was initially part of a community-oriented antiviolence effort called Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination (BRAVE). The lawsuit highlights that Sgt. Lorenzo Coleman, the head of Street Crimes, also serves as a consultant on police reform with BRPD Chief Myron Daniels. The lawsuit questions whether the close relationship between Coleman and Daniels has influenced the exoneration of Street Crimes Unit members accused of wrongdoing.
BRAVE was introduced in 2012 as a crime reduction initiative based on the “focused deterrence” model. This model offers individuals involved in violent crime the choice between accepting social services to stop their criminal activities or facing legal consequences. However, critics argue that focused deterrence often leans more towards punitive measures rather than providing support.
While the DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention initially funded BRAVE, concerns about the administration of the grant led to its non-extension in 2017. Despite this, the Street Crimes Unit continued its operations and expanded its mission beyond the initial targeted areas.
The recent arrests of Street Crimes Unit members have raised concerns about the impact on criminal cases, similar to the fallout from the 2021 Narcotics Unit scandal. The lawsuit’s attorney, Thomas Frampton, highlights the frustrating irony that the BRAVE Cave, which emerged from a police reform initiative, has now become the subject of allegations of abuse.