Prosecutors dismiss charges against Louisiana troopers who bragged of beating a Black motorist

Louisiana prosecutors have quietly dismissed charges against state police troopers who were recorded beating a Black motorist and hoisting him to his feet by his hair braids before bragging in text messages that the “whoopin’” would give the man “nightmares for a long time.”

The violent 2020 arrest of Antonio Harris was among a series of beatings of Black men captured on body camera that prompted a sprawling U.S. Justice Department investigation into use of force by the Louisiana State Police. It came about a year after the deadly 2019 arrest of Ronald Greene in northern Louisiana, a beating that also resulted in state charges.

“The system is rigged against people like Antonio,” said Harris’ attorney, Michael T. Sterling, who first learned about the dismissals on Friday from The Associated Press, which confirmed them in an interview with the district attorney. “The record was clear that these officers senselessly and ruthlessly beat Antonio Harris and lied about it in reports. It’s hard to understand what’s going on here.”

Harris' arrest, which followed a high-speed chase that ended next to a cornfield in rural Franklin Parish, was called “inexcusable” by state police, who determined officers used “excessive and unjustifiable force" in kneeing, slapping and punching the man after he had surrendered.

“They kept saying ‘Stop resisting’ but I was never resisting,” Harris told investigators. “As soon as they got to me, one of them kneed me in my face. One of them was squeezing my eyes.”

An internal investigation found the troopers filed “wholly untrue” reports claiming Harris kept trying to flee, refused to obey commands and fought with troopers before pummeling him with what Trooper Jacob Brown called “tactical strikes.”

The troopers later exchanged 14 text messages peppered with “lol” and “haha” responses in which they mocked Harris, who spit up blood and suffered from sore ribs and stomach pain for days after the arrest.

“He gonna be sore tomorrow for sure,” Brown wrote in one of the texts. “Warms my heart knowing we could educate that young man.”

After initially vowing to take the troopers to trial, District Attorney Penny Douciere dismissed misdemeanor charges in November against Brown and Trooper Dakota DeMoss weeks after a federal jury in Monroe acquitted Brown of a civil-rights charge in the beating of yet another Black motorist he struck 18 times with a flashlight. The dismissals also came about two weeks after prosecutors in a nearby parish dropped charges against another trooper accused of withholding graphic body-camera footage of Greene's arrest.

Douciere did not explain why she dropped the charges but said Friday that she also plans to dismiss the prosecution of George “Kam” Harper, the third white trooper charged in Harris' arrest.

Attorneys for the troopers did not respond to emails seeking comment. The state police fired DeMoss and Harper, while Brown resigned. They were originally arrested in February 2021 on felony charges of malfeasance in office, but Douciere decided instead to charge them with misdemeanor battery.

The chase began after Brown pulled Harris over for a minor traffic violation and discovered he had a suspended license and outstanding warrants.

Harris sped away and led troopers on a 29-mile (47-kilometer) chase that reached speeds of 150 miles (241 kph) before it was stopped with the help of a tire-puncturing spike strip. Even though Harris had already surrendered, DeMoss, the first arriving trooper, “delivered a knee strike” and slapped him in the face with an open palm before powering off his body-worn camera, court records show.

Harper, meanwhile, punched Harris in the head several times with a fist “reinforced” by a flashlight and threatened to “punish” Harris, while Brown pulled the man’s hair, an internal investigation concluded. DeMoss can later be seen on the footage lifting Harris to his feet by his braids.

Investigators determined Brown never revealed to state prosecutors that body-worn camera video of the arrest existed.

Harris' attorney long said he was hopeful the Justice Department would bring civil-rights charges, but that didn't happen after a federal grand jury heard evidence in the case.

The Justice Department still has not said whether it will bring charges in Greene's death on a rural roadside outside Monroe, though federal authorities continue to investigate an attempted cover-up of his death.