A former Opelousas Police Department officer captured on hospital video beating a black man who was awaiting treatment for a mental health episode in October 2019 was found guilty on Tuesday of three counts of embezzlement in power.
Tyron Andrepont, 52, was convicted on three of the five misdemeanor charges he faced. The mischief charges stem from Andrepont punching the victim, Jonah Coleman, in the face, grabbing his neck from the front and strangling him, prosecutor Katie Ryan said.
The jury found Andrepont not guilty on one count of malfeasance for pushing Coleman’s leg above his head and were undecided on one count stemming from pulling his handcuffed right arm, which Ryan chose to reject.
The former police officer faces up to five years in prison, with or without forced labor, for each count. How many years and whether his sentences will be served consecutively or at the same time will be determined by Judge Ronnie Cox.
Cox was appointed by the Louisiana Supreme Court to preside over the case after the designated judge, 27th Judicial District Judge Gerard Caswell, fell ill during jury selection.
A sentencing date will be set once the pre-sentence investigation is complete, Ryan said.
A conviction for embezzlement automatically revokes Andrepont’s POST certification, which is a requirement to work as a law enforcement officer in Louisiana.
“I think the family’s primary focus in this case was a felony conviction to keep Tyron Andrepont from working in law enforcement again,” she said.
The trial took place over two days. Evidence was presented and witnesses testified on Monday and the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments on Tuesday morning. The jury deliberated for about four hours, Ryan said.
Witnesses from the District Attorney’s Office included Maj. Mark Guidry of the Opelousas Police Department, Opelousas Officer Tyrone Davis, the paramedic and EMT who brought Coleman to the hospital, the investigator at the retired Louisiana State Police Mark Fournet, a use-of-force expert from the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office and Coleman’s mother, Flora Coleman.
The defense called one witness, Ruston-based use-of-force expert W. Lloyd Grafton. Andrepont did not speak in his own defense, Ryan said.
Surveillance video, both from the hospital emergency room and from body cameras, was crucial to the case, the prosecutor said. A hospital surveillance camera provided an unobstructed view of the battery; the video filled with detail the victim, dazed by his mental health episode, was unable to remember.
“I first watched the video when the case first came to our office and I remember being so shocked by it. When I picked it up after not seeing the video for for a moment I was just as shocked to watch it the second time around. It was just unacceptable,” she said.
The evidence and testimony painted a picture of what happened on October 30, 2019 and the ensuing investigation.
Jonah Coleman, who lives with bipolar disorder and other mental health diagnoses, had trouble sleeping for several days. He attempted to harm himself by drinking dilute ammonia, and at one point put a knife to his neck; he was not violent or threatening to his family, but worried for his safety, they called an ambulance to take him to the hospital for treatment, Ryan said.
The responding officer and emergency health care professionals confirmed he was not a violent or combative threat when transported to Opelousas General Health System South Hospital.
While in the hospital, Jonah Coleman did not remain confined to the room he was placed in; Flora Coleman testified that her son suffered from anxiety and claustrophobia when he suffered such episodes. The battery occurred as hospital staff restrained the then 20-year-old man from walking around, the prosecutor said.
Ryan said the Coleman family was alerted that something may have happened to their son when staff at Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems, an inpatient mental health hospital in Lafayette, Jonah Coleman, reported that he had bruises and a slight limp.
Flora Coleman filed a complaint with the Opelousas Police Department; Opelousas General officials also submitted their security video to the department, the prosecutor said.
Opelousas Police Chief Martin McLendon has asked the Louisiana State Police to investigate. After being criminally charged in June 2020, Andrepont attempted to resign from the department, but his resignation was denied and he was instead fired by the Opelousas board of aldermen.
McLendon said he wants Andrepont’s case terminated if he tries to get another job in law enforcement pending the outcome of his criminal case.
“I think we inherently trust the police and I think we should be able to trust the police. The jury heard from a few officers and officials who were proud of their oath and proud of their protective and service work, and when you have a bad apple like Tyron Andrepont, that ill reflects on all law enforcement officers,” Ryan said. .
Jonah Coleman, now 23, did not speak in the case and did not attend the trial. The prosecutor said he “continues to struggle to this day” after meeting Andrepont and his family and prosecutors agreed it would be better for his mental health to forgo attending.
Ryan said Flora Coleman made sure the jury had an idea of who her son was: a smart young man who graduated at the top of his high school class and went on to earn an associate’s degree and certifications professionals, but who in his late teens and early twenties began to show signs of mental illness. He had been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, but did not have a violent nature and did not try to harm others, even when struggling, prosecutors said .
“Mrs. Flora Coleman was a very outspoken advocate on behalf of her child. She refused to give up, refused to sit down, refused to keep quiet about what happened and she called attention about this case and what happened to her son. As a mother, if something happened to my child, I hope that I would be an advocate for him in the same way that Mrs. Coleman was an advocate for Jonah,” she said.
#ExOpelousas #cop #convicted #malfeasance #beating #man #mental #health #episode