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MacArthur Justice Center Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Gretna, Louisiana for Using “Mayor’s Court” as Modern Day Debtor’s Prison to Balance Books

City-Appointed Court Officials Exploit Fees, Fines from Traffic Violations and Misdemeanors to Generate 13.5% of Gretna General Fund 

New Orleans - The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center has filed a federal class action targeting the Mayor’s Court of Gretna, Louisiana for its inherent financial conflict of interest and focus on generating revenue to sustain the City budget. 

The suit was filed on behalf of two plaintiffs, Tamara G. Nelson and Timothea N. Richardson, representing those with cases pending before the Mayor’s Court and those who cannot afford the City’s fee-generating diversion program.

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Second Lawsuit Brought This Month For Illegal Detention

Despite judges’ orders, individuals detained for months past release dates

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans has filed a lawsuit on behalf of three individuals, Eddie Copelin, Phillip Dominick III, and Donald Guidry, who were held in custody for several months after their release dates. This is the second lawsuit brought for illegal over detention this month.

Mr. Copelin, Mr. Dominick, and Mr. Guidry were in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and housed pretrial at the River Bend Detention Center in Lake Providence, Louisiana through an agreement with the Sheriff of East Carroll Parish. Each resolved his criminal charge, had completed his sentenced time, and was entitled to release and freedom. Yet these men continued to be illegally detained and had to wait for months before being released.

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MacArthur Justice Center Sues Private Prison for Withholding Information

Allen Correctional Center ignores repeated inquiries into inmates held in segregation

New Orleans – The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans has filed a lawsuit against Allen Correctional Center, which is run by a private contractor for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, for failing to respond to a request for public documents regarding inmates who are held in segregation.

“For over nearly two months we have made repeated attempts to obtain the requested documents and the Warden simply refuses to provide the information,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office. “All we want to know is who they are holding in solitary confinement and segregated housing. The Warden is illegally obstructing our inquiry and we are now seeking a court assistance.”

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Lawsuit Brought For Illegal Detention

Despite completion of sentences, plaintiffs remained in custody for five additional months

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans has filed a lawsuit on behalf of two individuals, Jessie Crittindon and Leon Burse, who were held in custody for five months after their release dates.

Mr. Crittindon and Mr. Burse were in the custody of the Orleans Parish Sheriff and housed in the River Bend Detention Center in Lake Providence, Louisiana through an agreement with the Sheriff of East Carroll Parish. In August 2016, both Mr. Crittindon and Mr. Burse had their criminal charges resolved and were immediately entitled to release. However, they remained in custody until January 2017 – five months later. Neither Sheriff’s Office nor the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections acted to ensure the men’s release from custody.

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Louisiana State Prison Obstructs Investigation into Disability Abuse Allegations

Federal Lawsuit Brought by Advocacy Group Asks Court to Order Access

A federal lawsuit argues that the Louisiana Department of Corrections and David Wade Correctional Center (DWCC) have deliberately impeded an investigation into allegations of serious neglect and abuse of prisoners with disabilities.

The suit is brought forth by the MacArthur Justice Center of New Orleans and the Advocacy Center of Louisiana, which has been designated as the statewide protection and advocacy system for individuals with disabilities. Under federal law, the Advocacy Center has the right and authority to investigate allegations of abuse and neglect, monitor facility conditions and provide protection and advocacy services to specific prisoners with disabilities. Federal statute also provides them with broad access rights to prisoners’ facilities and facility records.

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Lawsuit Targets Orleans Magistrate Judge Cantrell’s Unjust Bond Practice

A federal class action lawsuit alleges Orleans Magistrate Judge Harry E. Cantrell has consistently violated the constitutional rights of impoverished pre-trial arrestees by setting high bail amounts without any consideration of the person’s ability to pay or alternative no-cost conditions of release.

Cantrell “regularly sets a $2,500 minimum secured money bond irrespective of the particular facts in the case before him, and without regard to the circumstances surrounding the arrestee appearing before him,” the lawsuit states. “He routinely refuses to entertain arguments for a lower financial condition of release and informs regularly appearing defense lawyers not to even make them.”

The suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, also raises concern with Cantrell’s repeated insistence on using commercial bond companies over cash payments during bond proceedings. A cash payment would be refunded at the conclusion of the defendant’s case. A commercial bail company, however, requires a non-reimbursable fee, a portion of which goes to the court’s General Fund – revenue Cantrell and other judges’ control.

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Federal Lawsuit Seeks Order Prohibiting Lafayette Parish Officials from Keeping Poor People in Jail After Arrest Solely Because They are Poor

A federal class action lawsuit alleges that officials of the 15th Judicial District Court and Sheriff’s Office in Lafayette routinely violate the constitutional rights of impoverished people through the use of an assembly-line system of setting secured money bail without giving any consideration to what any individual can afford to pay or to alternative, non-financial conditions of release.

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Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s Controversial Subpoenas Prompt Lawsuit and Demand for Public Disclosure

A lawsuit was filed Friday against Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro in light of his office’s controversial practice of gathering evidence using subpoenas that do not have the required advance approval of a court.

Filed by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, the suit asks the Orleans Parish Civil District Court to order Cannizzaro to comply with a 2015 public records request for copies of district attorney subpoenas from 2013 to the present.

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Baton Rouge Protesters File Lawsuit Alleging Baton Rouge Law Enforcement Officials Conspired to Suppress July 2016 Peaceful Protests With Mass Arrests on Phony Charges


KILL NOW, THINK LATER: MDOC has not studied any of the alternative methods of execution proposed by HB 638

The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) has not studied how any of the alternative methods of execution proposed by House Bill 638 would be implemented. HB 638, which passed out of the Mississippi House of Representatives on February 8, adds nitrogen gas, the firing squad, and electrocution as methods of execution available to MDOC if lethal injection “is held unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction or is otherwise unavailable.”

In response to the MacArthur Justice Center's public records request MDOC confirmed that it had “no records responsive” to the request for any documents discussing how MDOC would conduct executions using nitrogen gas, the firing squad, or electrocution.

“It’s incomprehensible that someone – either the Attorney General, MDOC, or both – has proposed legislation to permit new methods of execution without making any effort to study how those methods would be used," said Jim Craig, Co-Director of the New Orleans office of the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center and lead counsel in the method of execution lawsuits. "No state has ever executed a condemned prisoner with nitrogen gas. MDOC hasn’t used electrocution since the early 1950s. And only two jurisdictions use the firing squad. It’s irresponsible for MDOC and General Hood to press the Legislature for permission to use these untried methods before doing their homework.”

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Men Freed After MacArthur Justice Center Files Lawsuit Over Illegal Jail Time

One day after litigation was filed to secure their freedom, prisoners Jessie Crittindon and Eddie Copelin have been released by the Louisiana Department of Corrections.

“This is a great victory for these two men, who should have been home with their families months ago,” said Katie Schwartzmann, co-director of the MacArthur Justice Center office in New Orleans. “However, we believe there are over 100 additional affected individuals who should have been eligible for either release or transfer to DOC custody but have been sitting in the East Carroll Parish jail with no legal classification. The work to identify and process those additional men continues.”

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MacArthur Files Suit Against Illegal Jail Time

After moving New Orleans prisoners hundreds of miles away to a jail in East Carroll Parish, state and local officials are now failing to release men who have completed their sentences and should have been freed months ago, according to lawsuits filed Thursday by lawyers with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans.

The petitions ask the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to order their immediate release. The respondents in the cases are the Louisiana Department of Corrections, the East Carroll Parish Sheriff, and the Independent Jail Compliance Director at the Orleans Parish Jail.

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Louisiana Prison Officials Sued for Retaliating Against Whistleblower

After communicating with journalist, prisoner was banished to “the Dungeon”

A  federal lawsuit has been filed against filed against Louisiana prison officials who retaliated against a prisoner after he communicated with a journalist investigating prison conditions and financial irregularities at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

When prison officials learned of William Kissinger’s communications with a Baton Rouge Advocate reporter in 2015 and 2016, they transferred Kissinger to the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center where he was placed in solitary confinement – known commonly as “the Dungeon,” according to the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

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Mississippi Supreme Court upholds the right of condemned men and women to challenge torturous methods of execution in state court

The Mississippi Supreme Court has cleared the way for a Death Row prisoner to seek a state court order prohibiting a torturous method of execution.

In Crawford v. Fisher, the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the Mississippi attorney general’s attempt to block Charles Ray Crawford from filing a civil rights lawsuit in the state court system. Crawford’s lawsuit challenges the use of a compounded anesthetic that has not been tested or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The use of an ineffective anesthetic as the first drug in a three-drug execution series would result in Crawford being conscious throughout the execution and experiencing an extremely painful death by suffocation and cardiac arrest.

Attorneys from the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office originally filed Crawford’s lawsuit in Hinds County Chancery Court in Jackson.

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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

Following a 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, said the agreement "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."

Schwartzmann said: “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."

In the consent decree litigation Jones v. Gusman, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center represents the people in the Orleans Parish jail.

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About the MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans

Opened in 2013, the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center office in New Orleans has expanded opportunities for the MacArthur Justice Center to affect civil rights and human rights through litigation to reform the criminal justice system. The New Orleans office now has the lead litigation responsibility in Jones v. Gusman, a federal lawsuit alleging pervasive violations of prisoners’ constitutional rights in the Orleans Parish Prison.  Learn more »


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