A federal jury in Louisiana on Wednesday acquitted a white state trooper charged with violating the civil rights of a Black motorist despite body-camera footage that showed the officer pummeling the man 18 times with a flashlight.
The case of Jacob Brown was the first to emerge from a series of FBI investigations into troopers’ beatings of Black men during traffic stops in Louisiana and underscored the challenges prosecutors face convicting law enforcement officials accused of using excessive force.
After a three-day trial in Monroe, jurors found Brown not guilty of depriving Aaron Bowman of his civil rights during a 2019 beating that left Bowman with a broken jaw, broken ribs and a gash to his head.
Brown, 33, who defended the blows to investigators as “ pain compliance,” would have faced up to a decade in federal prison if convicted.
Brown’s defense attorney, Scott Wolleson, told The Associated Press he was grateful for the verdict. “The men and women of the jury recognized the risks law enforcement officers like Jacob Brown face on our behalf every day,” he said.
Bowman’s attorney, Ron Haley, said the acquittal “shows it’s incredibly hard to prove a civil rights violation in federal court.” He added that the attack had “fundamentally changed” Bowman’s life.
“He was low-hanging fruit for Jacob Brown,” Haley said.
The acquittal comes as federal prosecutors are still scrutinizing other Louisiana state troopers caught on body-camera video punching, stunning and dragging another Black motorist, Ronald Greene, before he died in their custody on a rural roadside. That federal probe is also examining whether police brass obstructed justice to protect the troopers who beat Greene following a high-speed chase.
Body-camera footage of both the Bowman and Greene beatings, which took place less than three weeks and 20 miles apart, remained under wraps before the AP obtained and published the videos in 2021. The cases were among a dozen highlighted in an AP investigation that revealed a pattern of troopers and their bosses ignoring or concealing evidence of beatings, deflecting blame and impeding efforts to root out misconduct.
State police didn’t investigate the Bowman attack until 536 days after it occurred and only did so weeks after Bowman brought a civil lawsuit. It ultimately determined Brown “engaged in excessive and unjustifiable actions,” failed to report the use of force to his supervisors and “intentionally mislabeled” his body-camera video.
The AP found Brown, who patrolled in northern Louisiana, was involved in 23 use-of-force incidents between 2015 and his 2021 resignation — 19 of which targeted Black people. Brown still faces state charges in the violent arrest of yet another Black motorist, a case in which he boasted in a group chat with other troopers that “it warms my heart knowing we could educate that young man.”
Brown is the son of Bob Brown, a longtime trooper who oversaw statewide criminal investigations and, before retiring, was the agency’s chief of staff. The elder Brown rose to the agency’s second in command despite being reprimanded years earlier for calling Black colleagues the n-word and hanging a Confederate flag in his office.
In the wake of the AP’s reporting, the U.S. Justice Department last year opened a sweeping civil rights investigation into the state police that remains ongoing.
On the night that Bowman was pulled over for “improper lane usage,” Brown came upon the scene after deputies had forcibly removed Bowman from his vehicle and taken him to the ground in the driveaway of his Monroe home. Video and police records show he beat Bowman 18 times with a flashlight in 24 seconds.
“I’m not resisting! I’m not resisting!” Bowman can be heard screaming between blows.
U.S. Attorney Brandon Brown, who is not related to Jacob Brown, told AP he was proud of the 48-year-old Bowman for having the courage to tell his story.
“These cases are arguably the toughest that we investigate and prosecute,” he said. “We believe that this victim’s civil rights were violated. Unfortunately for us the jury didn’t agree, and we’ll have to respect their decision.”