Treona McCarter, Brian Ross, D’Marea Johnson, and James LeClare, were charged with malfeasance in office and negligent homicide.
McGlothen, 44, was suffering a psychotic episode when he died in the backseat of a Shreveport police vehicle following a struggle with the officers in April 2020. The officers were placed on leave after video surfaced showing the violent encounter, more than two months after his death. That video was played in court during the trial, showing the officers struggle to subdue McGlothen, using a Tazer on him several times, macing him and striking him with a baton while they tried to get him into handcuffs.
He would be found unresponsive less than an hour later after going into cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Officer Brian LeClare’s defense attorney Dhu Thompson says that video didn’t tell the whole story.
“This whole premise that he was left unattended for 45 minutes, which was the narrative not only throughout the state’s prosecution but through the media and social media. That was a false notion. That did not occur, and that’s the shame of it. These officers were drug through the mud for almost two years with that false premise and the evidence showed that that just was not the case.”
McGlothen, who had mental health issues, had three encounters with the police within a short time on the day he died. They began with a call from his sister requesting police to have her brother committed. On the stand, LaQuita McGlothen testified that she told the officers that her brother was off his meds and growing increasingly delusional and paranoid. She worried he would get hurt. But the officers told her and McGlothen’s father that they could not have him committed because he was not homicidal, suicidal, threatening others, or greatly disabled. They told her to call them back if he got worse, and to call the coroner’s office in the morning because they have broader commitment powers.
A short time later, Officer Brian Ross saw a driver forcefully remove McGlothen from the backseat of his truck outside a Family Dollar. Ross intervened and tried to question McGlothen, who was uncooperative and refused to give his name or provide proper ID. Ross can be heard on body cam audio saying there was clearly something wrong with McGlothen.
After discussing possible charges and the fact that the jail was not holding suspects on non-violent offenses because of COVID, the driver of the truck opted not to press charges. The officers sent McGlothen on his way. Officer Treona McCarter, who had arrived to assist, was heard on body cam audio saying he needed to be emergency committed and that she was sure they would be seeing him again.
They did, less than two hours later, when he showed up at a home on Eileen Street and blocked a woman in her driveway before entering her home. Her husband punched him in the face and pulled a gun on him to make him leave while his wife called police. When officers arrived, McGlothen resisted and a struggle ensued as the officers tried to get him into handcuffs.
At trial, an expert in police policy and use of force testified that McGlothen should have been taken into custody in the second encounter at the Family Dollar and charged with unlawful entry. Ken Katsaris said the officer should have checked to see if any other officers had interactions with him that day and that there were better ways to get him into custody.
“I’m talking about police procedure. That would have made the third incident never occur.”
During a cross-examination that lasted more than three hours, the defense team worked to discredit Katsaris and derided his assertion that the officers had other, less violent options for subduing McGlothen.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, argued that the officers showed a reckless disregard for McGlothen’s life and that their actions that day in combination with his psychotic mental state and failure to get him medical attention led to his death.
The court also heard testimony from three firefighters who were called to the scene that day by Officer McCarter, who requested EMTs to clean off her vest where McGlothen had spit on her after they got him in handcuffs. While they were there, another officer asked the firefighters to check one of his fingers, which had been injured in the struggle to subdue McGlothen. The officers also asked the firefighters for a spit hood, and to wipe blood from McGlothen’s skinned knee because the jail would not accept a suspect with blood on them.
The officers never asked the firefighters to do a medical check on McGlothen following the physical altercation as they are required to do under department policy, and they never told the firefighters that there had been a physical struggle with the suspect. The firefighters left the scene without checking him for injuries from that struggle or taking McGlothen’s vitals.
All three of the firefighters that took the stand were disciplined following McGlothen’s death for violation of fire department policy for not rendering medical aid. The police and fire civil service board has since upheld the disciplinary actions taken against them on appeal.
Attorneys for the officers pointed to the firefighters’ failure to check McGlothen, saying the officers are not trained medical professionals and that the firefighters had plenty of context to know that there had been a physical struggle and that McGlothen needed to be checked.
The firefighters are also named in a civil wrongful death suit filed by the McGlothen family that is still winding its way through federal court.
The defense team moved for acquittal late on the fourth day of the trial, immediately after the state rested its case. They argued that the state failed to make its case on any of the charges. On Friday morning, after taking the night to sleep on it, the judge agreed.
“This case was a tragedy and everybody feels sorry for what happened to Mr. McGlothen and extends sympathies to his family,” Thompson said after Friday’s ruling. “However, the greater tragedy would have been if these officers would have been convicted based on a premise that was just totally false. They did what they were trained to do. They did not cause his death. The use of force evidence always looks bad but once the evidence comes out and it shows that these are the trained tactics that they have to use at times to apprehend dangerous suspects, then I think the public would have a better understanding of why these incidents occur and to know that these are not criminal acts, so we are very happy that the court found the verdict that it did.”
Among other things, the defense team noted in their arguments that the state never called the lead detective investigating the case to the stand and that the Louisiana State Police and the Department of Justice reviewed the case and did not refer criminal charges. It was also revealed at trial that the D.A.’s office had to the case before a grand jury twice before getting indictments against the officers.
“Nobody brought criminal charges other than the district attorney’s office,” said Thompson.
While a forensic pathologist hired by the state to testify that McGlothen’s death was a homicide, she said none of the “minor blunt force injuries” caused McGlothen’s death. Instead, she said, it was the combination of the struggle with the officers and restraint that followed that “took this individual on a pathway to death through excited delirium.”
She said it was a homicide because the circumstances in which he died involved the actions of the officers, both in the physical struggle to subdue him and in restraining him, which are risk factors for death in cases of excited delirium.
The pathologist who performed the autopsy said on the stand he was unable to conclude the cause of death, but Caddo Coroner Dr. Todd Thoma reviewed the autopsy report and determined the cause of McGlothen’s death to be excited delirium but unlike the state’s expert witness, Thoma concluded the manner of death was natural. On the stand, Thoma also said McGlothen’s mental state set him on a pathway to death, but he did not believe it was the result of the officer’s actions and conceded it was possible that he could have died even if he had been taken to the hospital immediately after the physical struggle with police. Thoma also said he had never seen a case involving a natural death prosecuted as a homicide.
Dhu Thompson says in all his years as a prosecutor, he has never seen the state hire an outside expert to contradict their own coroner, and wondered out loud during his arguments on the motion to acquit how that decision would affect the relationship between the coroner’s office and district attorney’s office moving forward.
The officers opted for a bench trial rather than try the case before a jury. While their defense attorneys say that was a personal choice for each of the officers, the strategy to try the case before a judge who is also a former lawyer also likely paid off by not giving the state the opportunity to appeal to a jury’s emotions.
“I think in a case like this that involves a death, you can never eliminate the emotion,” said McCarter’s defense attorney, Shante Wells. “That’s going to come whether it’s a jury trial or a bench trial. It’s just that the judge was in the best place to evaluate the facts and evidence and the law.”
Because the defense called for the motion to acquit before making their case, the officers never had the opportunity to take the stand. Their defense attorneys said that decision would have been up to each of them, and at least one believed his client would have been willing to testify and tell their side of the story.
All four of the officers did testify before a grand jury, and that testimony was entered into the trial record.
When Caddo District Court Judge Chris Victory granted the motions to acquit before a packed courtroom Friday morning, there were tears of relief and hugs among the defense team. McGlothen’s family sat in stunned silence.
The attorney for the McGlothen family says they are disappointed in the ruling but plan to move forward with the wrongful death suit.
“We are not giving up. We demand justice, and we are deeply disappointed and the family is obviously hurt and disappointed,” family attorney James Carter said. “We continue our pursuit for justice in this matter. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The entire community in northern Louisiana, in the nation, should be concerned that you can have a situation where a woman comes forth with overwhelming evidence of the abuse and the ultimate death of a mentally disabled person, whose family was simply seeking help and ended up in his untimely death.”
“All I can say is we are very disappointed,” said McGlothen’s son, Tommie McGlothen III. “For our justice system, for officers to be able to let a man die, unresponsive in the back of the police car, and walk away free, and not being disciplined for it. I just feel like it just set the bar higher for more corruption here in Shreveport.
“I am heartbroken by this decision,” said LaQuita McGlothen, Tommy Jr’s sister, who called the police the day her brother died trying to get help getting him involuntarily committed. “I’m very disappointed by this decision, because, for me, not only have I lost my brother, but I’ve lost my sense of community. Those that are placed in a position to serve and protect, I no longer have trust in them at all.”
Now that the officers have been cleared, they are free to return to work. There is no word yet on whether any of them will choose to do so.
Prosecutors declined to comment.