NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Three investigations are underway into an NOPD commander’s use of force Sunday night in the French Quarter. The commander’s attorney said his client’s actions should be commended, and he said he did everything by the book to defuse a volatile situation.
It was not the kind of thing tourists went to the French Quarter Fest to see. Many onlookers watched as New Orleans police tried to break up a fight between several women on N. Peters Street as the fest wound down.
The NOPD confirms that in the middle of it all was Eighth District Cmdr. Octavio Baldassaro, installed just two weeks ago. In a bystander video of the incident, Baldassaro can be seen throwing a woman to the ground as she fights him. The woman, identified as 21-year-old Taylor Bruce, then she goes to the ground once more after appearing to swing something at Baldassaro as other officers arrive.
“Because of the outcry, the department is investigating this seriously. The Force Investigation Team is taking the lead on it,” said Tonya McClary with the Office of the Independent Police Monitor. “Right now it looks bad. We’ve heard from the community, our phones are ringing off the hook.”
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson has also launched a formal disciplinary investigation into the incident.
But Baldassaro’s attorney said in the chaotic situation, it was important to move quickly. He insisted the commander did an exemplary job after the women refused several commands to stop fighting.
“When an officer uses force, it’s not meet force with force, or you would fight all day. You have to use a reasonable amount of force to overcome it, or a higher use of force,” said Eric Hessler with the Police Association of New Orleans.
And then there’s the issue of whether or not the video shows the commander being struck with something, as some observers said that he was.
“Perhaps he was hit with an object, we’re not sure. The video moves so fast,” McClary said.
Criminologist Peter Scharf, who has testified in court on use of force, said whether or not the officer was struck will be a critical factor in the investigations.
“Was it tough to watch? Absolutely. But was it legally justified? And that’s the question you need to establish in a prudent investigation,” Scharf said.
Tonight, everyone from the superintendent to the police monitor promise a thorough review as commander Baldassaro remains on the job.
Hessler said Baldassaro sustained two deep scratches on his arm during the fight.
Police charged Taylor Bruce and another woman, Torian Lewis, with disturbing the peace. They also charged Bruce with battery of a police office and resisting an officer.