Local lawsuit claims police brutality

Published 7:30 pm Thursday, July 16, 2020

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VIDALIA — A civil suit filed in Concordia Parish 7th District Court claims Vidalia police officers used undue force in taking a disabled man into custody in an incident in May.

The suit, which seeks an unspecified amount in damages, alleges the officers kicked the man on his legs, slammed his impaired limb in an SUV door and dragged him across a seat by the neck via a shirt collar.

The incident occurred on May 17, according to the suit that names the City of Vidalia, Police Chief Joey Merrill and Vidalia police officers Robert “TJ” Cross and Josh Brewer, individually.

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Merrill, who won reelection Saturday to the Vidalia Chief of Police position, said he was aware of the complaint but declined to comment for this story.

Vidalia Town Clerk Jay Lasyone said the town had not received a copy of the complaint as of Thursday morning.

However, the Vidalia Mayor and Board of Aldermen have scheduled a special-called meeting for 9 a.m. Friday to discuss the issue. That discussion is expected to take place in a closed executive session for personnel matters.

“It will be taking up the recommendations of the chief for disciplinary action in this case,” Lasyone said of Friday’s meeting agenda.

The plaintiff is Jaris Smith, whom the lawsuit identifies as a local resident with a physical disability.

“Mr. Smith has a deformity of his legs due to a birth defect,” the suit states. “One leg is significantly more impaired than the other.”

Smith was sleeping on a bench at a Laundromat when he was arrested by Cross and Brewer, according to the complaint.

“While being placed in the police SUV, TJ Cross intentionally and repeatedly kicked Mr. Smith on the legs, mostly on the most impaired limb,” the complaint states. “TJ Cross further slammed Mr. Smith’s impaired limbs with the door of the SUV. Mr. Smith was further dragged across the back seat of the SUV by the neck via the back of his shirt collar by Josh Brewer. Josh Brewer failed to intervene or failed to timely intervene to avoid Mr. Smith’s injuries caused by the repeated kicks and the slamming of the door to his disabled and malformed limbs.”

The complaint further states that Smith was not offered or provided any medical attention and that he was later released without bond because he was arrested “without cause.”

The incident was captured on video, the complaint states, and was posted on social media: “therefore causing Mr. Smith persistent and ongoing trauma.”

Smith’s attorney in the case, Bridgett Brown of Campbell Brown Law and Consulting of Alexandria, Louisiana, could not provide a copy of the video that was taken by a bystander, she said, because it has been sent to the FBI office in Quantico, Virginia.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount in damages.

Messages left seeking comment from Brewer and Cross on this story were not returned.