The Baton Rogue (Louisiana) Police Department recently charged 20-year-old Brittany Stephens with negligent homicide in the traffic-related death of her year-old daughter, Sevaira.
On Oct. 12, 2017, 28-year-old off-duty Baton Rogue police officer Christopher Manuel, while driving his 2007 Corvette 94 miles an hour, plowed into a 2002 Nissan Xterra which contained several occupants, including Stephens and her daughter, Sevaira.
Stephens was charged for failing to properly adjust the car seat’s straps and securing the child’s car seat when she admitted to officers she had been responsible for placing the car seat “between the two front seats” in the vehicle.
In February, Manuel also was arrested and charged with negligent homicide. He was placed on paid administrative leave.
According to Sgt. Don Coppola, the detectives who investigated the crash “booked the appropriate parties who contributed to the death of the one year old … and believe they have probable cause to support the charges against Stephens.” The truth about probable cause is that those detectives don’t necessarily need to be right just “have a belief.” And trust me, there’s no consequence for the detectives if they are later proven wrong.
Having to suffer the loss of a child and then deal with the reality of defending criminal charges is unconscionable. This was an attempt by the Baton Rouge Police Department and those prosecutors with whom they have a symbiotic relationship to circle the wagons and mitigate Manuel’s irresponsible and reckless behavior.
It is another example of the Baton Rogue Police Department demonstrating wanton disregard for black folks.
Remember when Baton Rogue Police Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Blake II hurled expletives at Alton Sterling who was allegedly selling CDs outside of a convenience store. As the officers struggled with Sterling, one of them could be heard on a video recording telling Sterling that he would be shot if he continued to move? Promise made – promise kept.
Sterling died because of that fatal police encounter. Federal prosecutors declined to prosecute the officers, leaving it up to the Louisiana attorney general and a state prosecutor to decide if state charges would be later filed against the officers. What are the chances of state charges being filed?
As a former accident investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department for five years and a police sergeant, I recognize that great latitude exists when it comes to an actual arrest and presentation of charges for criminal consideration to the district attorney. Most often, the D.A. will only take on cases he or she feels are viable in front of a jury.
In Stephens’ case, wouldn’t it have been more compassionate and reasonable for the police to present the case to the D.A. for a potential grand jury indictment?
Well, that would make sense if the Baton Rouge Police Department was not in the “putting folks into the system” business. Perhaps the police authorities accept the fact that Stephens won’t be found guilty by a jury of her peers; she has still become part of the criminal justice system, suffering the kind of damage that occurs when someone of color is labeled an arrestee or, worse yet, a convict.
It’s not the time served for Stephens. It is the label she will be given. The label that comes by way of a public defender convincing Stephens that a lesser plea to negligent homicide is the way to go.
Then there’s the financial consideration. The type of financial hardship that goes along with being wrongly or unfairly arrested. You know, attorney’s fees, bail, etc.
And what about the financial harm to Stephens’ family in their attempts to keep her out of prison. All of this because police officer Christopher Manuel thought it was a good idea to get behind the wheel of his Corvette and drive 90 miles an hour. Manuel, a police officer who has probably seen firsthand the kind of carnage a high-speed collision can cause.
So, I join with other experts on this matter who have opined that charging Brittany Stephens was “overreaching” and down right insensitive.
There’s an opportunity to turn this tragedy into triumph. There’s a chance for others to take a page out of the book of the “Z Generation” who have said “never again.”
In this upcoming mid-term election season and with the 2020 election not that far away, pay attention at the ballot box.
When elected officials are up for re-election, everyone in one of those disenfranchised communities should be singularly focused on making certain that the people in positions of authority in police departments and prosecutorial agencies understand they are being held accountable.
Cheryl Dorsey, a retired LAPD sergeant, is the author of her autobiography “Black and Blue, The Creation of A Manifesto.“ Her column runs the second Thursday of each month in The Wave. For more information, visit www.sgtcheryldorsey.com and follow her on Twitter @sgtcheryldorsey.