By Ken Daley
BOGALUSA, La. - Bogalusa’s 23-year-old mayor-elect called for the resignation of the city’s police chief Friday (Nov. 26), in the wake of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday by the family of a man who died in police custody last December.
“I believe it is in our city’s best interest to change the leadership at the Bogalusa Police Department,” mayor-elect Tyrin Truong said in a statement. “I believe this change will begin the necessary process of restoring trust within our community. Although I cannot fire the police chief right away, due to civil service protections, I vow to do everything I can within the law to hold him accountable should he refuse to resign.”
Truong said the tenure of police chief Kendall Bullen “has been marred with callousness, incompetence, and a lack of transparency.”
Bullen has not responded to the mayor-elect’s salvo, but a public statement issued by the Bogalusa Police Department said it “is fully cooperating with the Louisiana State Police” as it continues to investigate the in-custody death of 28-year-old Eric L. Nelson.
Nelson complained of breathing difficulties and died last Dec. 19 after being tasered during an arrest by Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies and Bogalusa police following a traffic accident. Authorities said Nelson, who was discovered to have open narcotics arrest warrants, was subdued after attempting to escape from officers who had taken him home to allow him to change shoes on his way to jail.
Nelson’s mother, Kenyatte Spikes, on Tuesday, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of her grandson, alleging that Nelson’s civil rights were violated and that authorities lied to cover it up.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and names as defendants six Bogalusa police officers, additional unnamed Bogalusa officers, Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal, two of his deputies, and the City of Bogalusa. Bullen is not directly named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The suit filed by Baton Rouge attorney Joseph Long alleges that video evidence taken from a police station surveillance camera shows “a clearly unconscious and dying Eric Nelson is dragged from the passenger seats” of a Bogalusa police vehicle, then was left untreated for five minutes before an EMS van arrived on scene to take Nelson for treatment at a hospital, where he later died.
“For five critical minutes, the Bogalusa police officers do nothing as Nelson lays dying on the pavement,” the lawsuit alleges. “The misconduct described above was undertaken with malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference to the rights of Nelson.
“As a direct and proximate result of the use of excessive force by defendants, Nelson died. ... This combination of a tasting and physical injury resulted in his wrongful death. They then conspired to make up a cover story about the nature of Nelson’s death to keep them from being prosecuted for Nelson’s illegal killing.”
The lawsuit was allotted to U.S. District Judge Greg G. Guidry.
It was unclear whether Louisiana State Police have completed their investigation of Nelson’s arrest and subsequent death, nor have any findings been sent to Washington and St. Tammany Parish District Attorney Warren Montgomery for potential criminal prosecution.
Truong concluded his statement by saying, “I look forward to working with local and state law enforcement agencies to ensure a tragedy like this never occurs again. My administration will use the full extent of the law to push for an investigation to ensure any wrongdoers are held accountable. My condolences are with the Nelson family, and I pray for peace in our city.”
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