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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

NEW ORLEANS – 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 Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Olon Dotson, Lyle’s father, is a professor of architecture at Ball State University. Lyle had traveled to New Orleans with his father and his father’s college class on a field trip, which included a study of the city’s historic architecture. “Instead of receiving a warm welcome and gratitude for their visit, Lyle was wrongly arrested, physically assaulted, and detained,” according to the lawsuit.

“Rather than uphold their obligation to make the French Quarter a safe and pleasant destination for visitors to the City of New Orleans, the Louisiana State Police’s unconstitutional and racially driven policies and practices served to do precisely the opposite, endangering and injuring individuals who have chosen to come to New Orleans,” the lawsuit states.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson, and four other LSP officers. The LSP patrols the French Quarter under a contract with the City of New Orleans. The lawsuit alleges the LSP officers “hostile, aggressive approach and clear mistake in identity are consistent with a pattern and practice of racially biased unconstitutional stops, arrests and excessive use of force by the LSP patrolling the French Quarter.”

Attorneys Jim Craig and Emily Washington of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans and private practitioner Elizabeth Cummings represent Lyle and Olon Dotson.

Lyle Dotson alleges the false arrest, detention and treatment of Lyle Dotson violated his constitutional rights and caused physical, mental and emotional distress, pain and suffering. Olon Dotson, who thought his son was missing for several hours and later found him handcuffed and then brought to court on serious charges, also seeks payment for damages from suffering emotional pain and expenses associated with the legal defense and expungement of his son’s wrongful arrest.

Lyle Dotson, whose high school activities included the Chess Club and Latin Club, had never been arrested before that field trip to New Orleans. Police said he was stopped because they said he resembled a suspect who had been targeted for a stop by undercover police officers in the French Quarter. “The only thing the two men had in common were that they were both wearing red bottoms, black tops and that they were both African-American men,” the lawsuit states.

“The Louisiana State Police were invited to assist NOPD in protecting the safety of New Orleans’ residents and visitors,” said Jim Craig, Co-Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans. “NOPD, is subject to a Federal consent decree and must answer to the public through the Mayor and City Council. But the Louisiana State Police are playing by their own rules. Through this lawsuit, our clients hope to hold the State Police accountable for their unconstitutional actions.”


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PDF of complaint HERE »

Keywords: Dotson, French Quarter, State Police

Posted in News releases