Baton Rouge Cops Strip-Searched a Minor During a Traffic Stop and Entered a Family's Home Without a Warrant. The City Just Settled for $35,000.
The case is an indictment on just how hard it is to get accountability when the government violates your rights.
A Baton Rouge, Louisiana, family has settled with the city for $35,000 after officers carried out a pretextual traffic stop, strip-searched a minor in public, and conducted a warrantless home entry that resulted in a man spending five months behind bars. The officers' actions were so egregious that they attracted the ire of a federal judge.
A civil suit filed by the family of Clarence Green was formally dismissed last week after the Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council agreed to the payout in lieu of a jury trial. Such a result is highly unusual and is perhaps a commentary on just how much of a legal loser the city knew this case to be. It's also a reminder of how difficult it is to get meaningful accountability when the government violates our rights. After all, the modest sum awarded to Green's family will ultimately be paid by the taxpayers, the criminal charges against Green were only dropped after he spent five months behind bars, and the cop at the center of the scandal already had multiple complaints against him prior to that day.
On January 1, 2020, Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) Sergeant Ken Camallo, who had been checking vacant residences while searching for someone suspected of theft, abandoned that mission after seeing a car with out of state plates in front of a "known drug house." According to BRPD incident reports obtained by Reason, Camallo stopped the car for "suspicious driving."
Behind the wheel was a woman named Kayleen Butler. Camallo ordered her and her passengers—23-year-old Clarence Green, his 16-year-old brother (whose name is withheld in court documents because he is a minor), another unnamed passenger, and a young female child—to exit the vehicle.
According to the police report, Camallo claimed he "smelled marijuana," so the officers placed Clarence and his brother in handcuffs. The officers then pulled down their underwear while they stood on the public street, exposing their genitals, and searched for drugs.
According to the initial incident report, the officers found a firearm in Green's "underware." Because he was then on probation for possession of Oxycodone, Green was prohibited from possessing a gun. The report also stated that the cops found marijuana on Green's younger brother.
The officers then paid a visit to the Greens' home. "Sgt. transported GREEN and his co-defendant juvenile brother to their residence (REDACTED) in an attempt to release the juvenile to his mother," according to the report. The cops entered the residence with guns brandished and without a warrant.
It wasn't until after they finished the search that they allowed the mother, Tanya Green, to see her children. At that time, the officers sought to convince Clarence's 16-year-old brother to consent to a DNA swab.
"Call a lawyer," said Clarence, his statement captured in the body camera footage, while he sat handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.
"If you don't shut the fuck up," responded Officer Troy Lawrence Jr., "I'm gonna come in and I'm gonna fuck you up…You think I'm playing with you? I will fuck you up."
Green was ultimately indicted for unlawful possession of a firearm. He would sit in jail for several months—until the government abruptly sought to drop the charges with little explanation.
The federal judge overseeing the case granted the state's request. Then, in an unorthodox move, he issued a scathing rebuke to the prosecution, noting that the cops involved may very well be guilty of criminal wrongdoing.
"The state agents in this case demonstrated a serious and wanton disregard for Defendant's constitutional rights, first by initiating a traffic stop on the thinnest of pretext, and then by haphazardly invading Defendant's home (weapons drawn) to conduct an unjustified, warrantless search," wrote Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. "Such an intrusion, in abject violation of the protections afforded by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects citizens against unwarranted governmental intrusions in their homes, may justifiably be considered to be a trespass subject to prosecution under" Louisiana law.
And that may not be the extent of the officers' misdeeds. Thomas Frampton, the lawyer for the Green family, argues that the officers also violated both the Constitution and state law when they strip-searched the brothers on the street. "The Supreme Court has said that officers may conduct a 'frisk'—meaning a brief pat-down of the outer garments—if the offer has a reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed," Frampton says. "The reason that's okay, according to the Court, is because a properly conducted pat down is ostensibly non-invasive. A strip search on a public sidewalk, however, is something else altogether."
In his opinion, Judge Jackson also noted that Sergeant Camallo "gave multiple conflicting accounts when describing the circumstances leading up to [Green's] traffic stop, and failed to offer a satisfactory explanation for why the police reports in this investigation were revised nearly one dozen times" after Green was arrested.
A review of a November 2020 hearing transcript, where Camallo testified, shows that his story indeed evolved. Though he mentioned the "drug house," Camallo centered the traffic stop around "a small child who was in the front passenger seat" sitting in someone's lap, a traffic infraction that he said he enforced regularly.
The justification for the officers' entry into the Greens' home is also under dispute. An updated police report stated that Tanya Green provided "written consent" to search Clarence's bedroom, where the police found two additional firearms, though the body camera footage does not corroborate any such consent, and Tanya denies providing it. Camallo was not pressed on that inconsistency while under oath.
During that same November 2020 hearing, Judge Jackson did ask the prosecution if there was anything the court needed to know about the officers involved. "The court has the right to test the credibility of the officer," Jackson said. "And if there are events that occurred with respect to the officer's credibility, either before the incident or after the incident, the court is certainly entitled to be aware of any such information."
"I would agree with that judge," responded Assistant U.S. Attorney Kashan Pathan.
It would appear that there was plenty of material about "the credibility of the officer" for Pathan to share with the court, though the prosecutor did not do so. In 2017, a different federal judge discarded all the evidence in a case against a man who was facing similar illegal weapons and drug charges. The reason? Sergeant Ken Camallo conducted a warrantless search on the man's trailer and improperly seized materials when there were "no exigent circumstances present."
"This officer has served on the force for 20 plus years," Pathan said at the November hearing. "He's been found to be credible." Yet it was the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Louisiana, Pathan's own office, that was forced to drop the 2017 case based on Camallo's misconduct. When asked under oath, Camallo responded that his record was clean.
Camallo had also racked up a laundry list of complaints reaching back to 2007. He currently has several open actions against him for untruthfulness, according to the internal affairs documentation of his history on the force. The latest disciplinary charge was filed against him on February 21 of this year. (That same internal affairs review shows no pending discipline against Officer Lawrence, who told Green, "I'm gonna fuck you up," for his actions that day.)
Neither the Baton Rouge Police Department, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III, nor the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Louisiana replied to multiple requests for comment.
This case is replete with the sort of eyebrow-raising conduct that bleeds into much of modern policing. There was the stop itself, set in motion with minimal pretext and an ever-changing story that Camallo himself never fully nailed down.
What came next—a strip search of a juvenile in public and a man spending months behind bars—was inspired by the supposed stench of marijuana. Remember that Camallo had been looking for someone who was suspected of committing theft, a cause he tossed aside in favor of a traffic stop. Perhaps there is a reason that BRPD's violent crime clearance rate—the statistic used to evaluate how effectively police are at solving such offenses—is a mere 26.6 percent. That's 16.7 percent below the national average, which is already dismal.
Judge Jackson said it best when he upbraided the prosecutors and police. "It is appropriate to remind the Government," he wrote, "of its paramount obligation to seek and serve justice, not convictions."