Lawsuit: Louisiana State Police Use Excessive Force and Make Racially Biased Stops and Arrests of African-Americans in the French Quarter
The wrongful arrest, unjustified use of force and detention of an Indiana teenager has resulted in a lawsuit alleging that aggressive, unjustified harassment of African-Americans is a regular practice of Louisiana State Police (LSP) on patrol of the French Quarter.
Lyle Dotson was a 17-year-old Muncie, Indiana, high school student on a tour of cultural, architectural and historical sites in the Southern United States last October. Lyle was separated from his group for a few minutes. While using his cell phone to ask his father for help finding the group, three State Police officers grabbed him from behind, frisked him, refused to give their correct badge numbers and names, and threatened to arrest him if he refused to allow them to take his photograph. He subsequently was arrested for battery of a police officer – a charge later dropped, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
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New Independent Jail Compliance Director to have final authority over all operations of the Orleans Parish jail
On Tuesday, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, which represents the people in the Orleans Parish jail consent decree litigation Jones v. Gusman, issued the following statement, concerning the federal court order approving the agreement to have the court appoint an Independent Jail Compliance Director with final authority and administrative control over the Orleans Parish jail.
Katie M. Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the New Orleans office of the MacArthur Justice Center, stated the following:
“This litigation was filed four years ago to address the dangerous conditions faced by the men, women and youth in the Orleans Parish jail. A year after the filing, in June 2013, the Court entered a Consent Decree requiring essential reforms to the way the jail is operated. Three years later, the reforms have not been implemented, and the people in the jail continue to face serious and ongoing danger. Accordingly, the plaintiff prisoner class and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion on April 25 seeking the appointment of an outside individual to provide independent oversight and management of the jail.
“The agreement announced today creating an Independent Jail Compliance Director position over the Orleans Parish jail marks a significant step forward in continuing efforts to make the 2013 court ordered reforms a reality and to improve the safety of people held in the jail.
“The Orleans Parish jail remains in dire need of a complete overhaul, including personnel, policies, and institutional culture. The new Independent Jail Compliance Director will be an individual with experience in corrections who will have the final authority over all operations at the jail, including final oversight of all policies. That person will have the final authority to hire, fire and reassign staff, as well as the final authority to make whatever decisions are necessary to move the jail toward compliance with the Consent Decree.
“This change in leadership and the addition of correctional management experience is critical to speeding reform at the jail. We are hopeful that the Sheriff will likewise support the changes necessary to create significant and lasting reform at the Orleans Parish jail.
“Given the urgency of the situation, the City, the Department of Justice, and the plaintiff class have already begun the search for the best individual to serve as the Independent Jail Compliance Director and to have final authority and administrative control over the Orleans Parish jail. A copy of the job description will be posted on the MacArthur Justice Center website (www.NewOrleans.MacArthurJusticeCenter.org), and applications can be sent to:firstname.lastname@example.org.
“There is still an enormous amount of work to be done to ensure the safety of people being held in the jail. We are committed to working together with the other parties and the new Independent Compliance Director to do it.”
Federal Court Asked to Strip Sheriff Marlin Gusman of Authority Over Orleans Parish Prison
Citing the grave danger imposed on men, women and children incarcerated in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), attorneys for the prisoners and the United States Department of Justice have asked a federal court to take the extraordinary step of stripping Sheriff Marlin Gusman of the authority to operate the jail, which has been under federal oversight since 2013.
In a motion filed Monday, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Department of Justice argued Gusman has repeatedly failed to deliver the improvements called for in the 2013 consent judgment governing jail operations, including security, medical and mental health care, sanitation and classification. As a result, the people incarcerated there are not safe and have been subjected to an “epidemic of violence.”
“The Sheriff not only has failed or refused to comply with the Consent Judgment, he has proven to be incapable of taking action necessary to comply,” stated the motion, which detailed widespread violence and underreporting of the violence by the jail.
“Urgent and extraordinary action is required of this Court to address the immediate risk of harm and death to the men, women and youth in the Jail,” according to the motion. “Although there is no question that receivership is an extraordinary remedy, so too is the level of harm that continues to plague the Jail, with no apparent end in sight. The history of this case, the current state of Consent Judgment compliance, and the ongoing dangerous conditions demonstrate that receivership is the only path forward.”
The attorneys argued that violence in the OPP “continues to spiral out of control” and that staff uses of force against prisoners “go unreported, uninvestigated, and are out of control.”
In addition, the motion contends that even after construction of a new building to house the jail, there remain suicide risks that have not been corrected. Last month, Cleveland Tumblin, a 61-year-old boxing instructor, died after hanging himself in a shower stall at the jail, locked from the inside. The Sheriff was warned of the known suicide hazard months before the death. “Orleans Parish prisoners are dying as a result of the Sheriff’s unwillingness or inability to comply with life saving measures,” according to the motion.
The motion asks U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk to hold Sheriff Gusman in contempt of the Consent Judgment provisions. It further requests that Judge Africk set a schedule for additional briefing on the logistics of appointing a receiver to administer the jail.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has litigation responsibility in Jones v. Gusman, the federal lawsuit alleging pervasive violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights in the OPP. Katie M. Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans, is lead counsel on the case, which began in 2012 and detailed the inhumane conditions at the jail, where prisoners often were subjected to violence, sexual assaults, neglect and the denial of needed mental health services. The Department of Justice intervened in September 2012; and an agreement was reached to address the conditions in December 2012.
Recent Monitors’ Report Confirms Continued Failure to Improve Conditions in Orleans Jail
In April 2012 the men, women, and kids in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) sued the Sheriff to improve conditions in the jail. That lawsuit was filed to stop rampant rapes, beatings and stabbings in the notorious lock-up. It resulted in a consent decree that was approved by the federal court in June 2013. As part of the consent decree a team of independent monitors is appointed to report on the Sheriff’s compliance with the various consent decree provisions.
Today the team of monitors released the fifth periodic compliance report. That report finds that rather than making progress, the Sheriff’s Office has actually fared worse in many areas of the consent decree. Despite having moved into a new jail building and having shipped hundreds of prisoners to other jurisdictions, areas of the consent decree that were previously seeing progress have moved out of compliance.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center represents the men, women, and kids in OPP in the consent decree. Lead attorney Katie Schwartzmann said:
The monitors’ report documents the fact that four years into this lawsuit OPP remains a disaster. Moving into a shiny, expensive new jail building didn’t fix the fundamental lack of vision and leadership at the Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gusman has been in office for over a decade, so he can’t blame the problems on the previous Sheriff or Katrina. The City has almost fully funded his current budget requests, so the Sheriff can’t blame lack of funding. There’s just no excuse for OPP’s continued failure of our community.
And yet another person, Cleveland Tumblin, died in the jail last week.
The plaintiffs are deciding upon next steps, but obviously the current situation can’t continue.
Lawyers representing prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) have a filed briefing opposing Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s movement of an additional 140 Orleans Parish prisoners to East Carroll Parish jail in Northern Louisiana on Jan. 22. Gusman also announced that there are plans to move 50-60 additional prisoners. The latest group of relocated prisoners adds to the 150 prisoners that the Sheriff has already sent to that region of the state.
Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center and counsel for the plaintiffs in that litigation: “The Sheriff’s decision to move even more Orleans pretrial detainees hours away from courts, their lawyers and families is absolutely outrageous. It is inexcusable that three years into this consent decree the jail remains so dangerous and understaffed that we now have to send unconvicted pretrial detainees to be held in other jurisdictions. Sheriff Gusman has had over two years to prepare for the day when the new jail would be ready to open. In those two years, the Sheriff has failed to hire and train adequate staff for the new facility.
A class action lawsuit alleges that the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office has intentionally and unconstitutionally manipulated jury selection to limit the number of African-Americans selected to serve on juries in criminal trials.
By using peremptory challenges of potential jurors, the District Attorney’s Office has blocked African-Americans from juries at over three times the rate of people who were not African-American, according to the lawsuit filed by the New Orleans office of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
According to a study of the records of 332 criminal cases between Jan. 28, 2003, and Dec. 5, 2012, the District Attorney’s Office barred 46 percent of qualified African-Americans from juries and only 15 percent of all other races. “The District Attorney’s racially discriminatory custom, usage and/or policy violates the rights guaranteed to Plaintiffs by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” the lawsuit states.
The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana have filed suit against the state of Louisiana for failure to provide inpatient treatment for people accused of certain crimes but lacking the mental capacity to stand trial.
The suit was filed behalf of individuals who are being held in parish jails without the ability to receive needed inpatient treatment or to proceed to court to stand trial. The court also was asked to combine this case with a similar 2014 case involving individuals who were being held in jails for long periods of time after being found not guilty by reason of insanity rather than being provided with necessary mental health treatment.
“Our client has been charged with crimes and incarcerated without being able to defend herself,” said Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans. “There are many others in her same situation.
“They’re stuck,” Schwartzmann said. “They can’t defend themselves in a court of law because they’ve been found incompetent, but they also can’t get the treatment they need to restore their competency. That’s why we are asking a federal court to order Louisiana to end these waiting lists and restore the constitutional rights of these prisoners, who are not convicted of a crime.”
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A federal class action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of impoverished people charged with minor crimes in Ascension Parish, where the parish court practices result in days of jail for people unable to afford bond.
In Ascension Parish, people arrested for a traffic or misdemeanor offense are automatically released from Sheriff’s custody if they pay bond amounts determined by a “bail schedule” issued by Judge Marilyn Lambert. Those too poor to pay the bond are forced to remain in jail waiting for a hearing before a judge, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.
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The U.S. Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Jordan v. Fisher, the Federal lawsuit filed by the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center against officials of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) to prohibit the use of midazolam or compounded pentobarbital as the first drug in Mississippi’s three-drug execution series. It has long been established that if the first drug does not deeply anesthetize the condemned prisoner, he or she will suffer from the torturous effects of the second and third drugs.
“The Fifth Circuit’s ruling today involves only one of three claims in the Federal lawsuit challenging Mississippi’s use of midazolam or compounded pentobarbital in a three-drug lethal injection process,” said Jim Craig, Co-Director of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center office in New Orleans. “We are studying the ruling to determine whether to seek review by the full Fifth Circuit and/or the Supreme Court.”
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There has been little improvement and even setbacks in improving prisoner safety and adequate staffing at the Orleans Parish Prison, according to the team of experts monitoring Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman’s compliance with a December 2012 consent decree.
The monitoring team’s second report said there have been no “substantial changes” since its first report in February and said medical and mental health care have “deteriorated.”
“While appreciating that there is substantial work to gain compliance, the health and safety of more than 2,000 inmates are in peril today because of the lack of staff, wholly substandard medical care, absence of mental health care, and deteriorated and unclean living environments,“ wrote Susan W. McCampbell, who is leader of the team monitoring compliance with the Jones v. Gusman consent decree. “Leadership is essential to solving problems.”
Katie M. Schwartzmann, lead counsel for plaintiffs in the lawsuit and Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans, said the situation the slow pace is inexcusable and the lives of workers and those held in the prison remain in danger.
“The lack of progress outlined in the monitor's second report to the court reflects the grave and deadly continuing crisis facing the men, women and youth in Orleans Parish Prison,” Schwartzmann said. “Medical care, mental health care and violence have continued to worsen, jeopardizing the lives of everyone who is held at the jail, as well as the staff.
“Our clients and their families demand -- and taxpayers deserve -- real and immediate progress in changing the conditions that endanger the lives and health of New Orleanians held at the jail,” Schwartzmann said. “This lawsuit was filed two and a half years ago. We have waited too long. The Sheriff's failure to make meaningful progress in implementing reforms to keep people at OPP safe is inexcusable.”
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A recent Metropolitan Crime Commission report has inflated the needed capacity of Orleans Parish Prison and “is fundamentally flawed in both its assumptions and its analysis,” according to the ACLU of Louisiana.
“The MCC’s report appears to be based on the premise that every person in the jail needs to be there,” the ACLU of Louisiana said in statement. “Yet their own numbers make it clear that the overwhelming majority of the people housed at OPP do not need to be incarcerated at all, and that releasing them will have no detrimental effect on public safety.”
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JACKSON, Miss. — The Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans has filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Corrections challenging the use of compounded drugs in executions. The lawsuit also challenges the state’s continued use of a three-drug lethal injection protocol, given the known risks associated with such a protocol and the demonstrated success of a single-drug protocol to significantly reduce these risks.
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The Mississippi Supreme Court has been asked to overturn a lower court’s finding that Death Row prisoner Ricky Chase is not intellectually disabled — a lower court ruling that failed to follow a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that executing mentally retarded individuals violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, according to an appeal filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center.
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