NEW ORLEANS — Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson has opened a formal investigation into the actions of Eighth District Commander Octavio Baldassaro after cellphone video captured Baldassaro and officers on foot and horseback, struggling to break up a fight between two women.
The incident occurred near Bienville and North Peters streets Saturday afternoon in the middle of the French Quarter packed with visitors enjoying the French Quarter Fest.
The video, which surfaced on social medial over the weekend, shows Baldassaro approach one woman from behind and slam her to the street.
Eventually, he pins the woman to the ground and other officers arrive and handcuff her.
A second woman was also handcuffed.
New Orleans Chef Kendell Trepagnier watched the video on his phone.
"We just want a police department that we can trust," said Kendell Trepagnier, a local chef who watched the video on his phone. "This here makes it hard. This situation makes it hard. I'm really disappointed in the NOPD."
Local artist Leslie Runnels called the commander's actions blatant police brutality.
"I think he's setting a tone," Runnels said. "That was pretty clear to me, that he's going to make that behavior okay for his district."
The NOPD's Force Investigative Team is now looking into whether Baldassaro's actions and the actions of other officers on the scene were in keeping with departmental policies.
Tonya McClary from the city's Office of Independent Police Monitor is following the investigation.
"I think the concern is: Here is someone who is a high official in the police department and seems to be doing something that is not becoming of the department," McClary said.
But, McClary cautions against a rush to judgment.
"We are urging people to let (investigators) do their job," McClary said. "Let them do their work and see where this investigation leads."
People like Trepagnier and Runnels are already questioning the department's tactics and whether court ordered consent decree reforms are working.
"I think this is evidence of the changes not being good enough," Runnels said.
"They had a lot of great progress through the past three to four years," Trepagnier said. "But, this situation sets them back."
Baldassaro was picked by Ferguson to head the police district which includes the French Quarter and CBD just last month.
Taylor Bruce, 21 and Torian Lewis, 26, were each booked on a charge of disturbing the peace.
Bruce, who is accused of getting in a struggle with Baldassaro, is also facing other charges including resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.