Lawyer says police were laughing at his client

(LAFAYETTE, La.) -- No formal internal police investigation is under way into the conduct of two undercover officers allegedly caught on tape laughing after another officer tackled and injured a man.

Police Chief Charles Crenshaw originally told reporters he would launch a formal investigation. He now says questions about the alleged incident will be answered after lawyers take depositions, or sworn statements, in a related civil case.

The two officers, whose names have not been released, are heard laughing hysterically on the tape. They also made jokes about someone "taking the lick" from another officer during a July 1999 drug bust.

The attorney for Frederick Jones, a 23-year-old whose leg was broken in the incident and who was cleared of wrongdoing, contends the officers were laughing at his client.

Jones' attorney says his client was an innocent bystander tackled for no reason. He has filed a police brutality lawsuit against Officer Andres Landor, Crenshaw and city-parish government.

At one point on the videotape, an officer asks: "Hey, did you ever see a broked-up leg?"

Crenshaw said the laughter by the officers was inappropriate.

"Do I condone it? No, I don't. Do I understand it? Yes, and we are going to handle that internally," he said.

The comments on the tape "may seem sick" to regular citizens, Crenshaw acknowledged. But he said undercover officers have dangerous jobs and use laughter to relieve tension.

Crenshaw said internal affairs investigators are not looking into the case, but it has been assigned an internal affairs case number.

He said many of the questions that would be asked by internal affairs investigators will be answered during depositions in the lawsuit filed by Jones.

"I'm not going to tie up investigators when we can get sworn depositions," Crenshaw said.

The video camera that captured the officers' words was in the window of their undercover car and did not capture the actual arrests.

Jones' attorney, Chris Villemarette, has maintained that the officers were laughing at his client. He was not charged with a drug-offense in the incident and was cleared of a resisting arrest charge he faced.

Villemarette criticized Crenshaw's decision not to proceed immediately with an internal investigation.

"If laughing at a guy with a broken leg doesn't warrant an internal affairs investigation, I don't know what does," Villemarette said. "Maybe somebody has to die."

Police attorney Patrick Wartelle says the undercover officers were laughing at an alleged drug dealer who tripped over a garbage can while running from police. Wartelle said both officers have said they did not see Jones get hurt.

Crenshaw said that action taken against the officers would not be made public until Jones' lawsuit is resolved. The case is set for trial early next year.

(iSyndicate; The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA.); Nov. 27, 20000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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