Organization files fifth lawsuit against JPSO, cites agency’s frequent violations of Fourth Amendment for unreasonable searches and seizures, and excessive force

NEW ORLEANS – In a letter addressed to U. S. Attorney Duane E. Evans and the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the ACLU of Louisiana called for a pattern or practice investigation into misconduct by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO). The demand comes after growing concern and historical evidence that JPSO officers target and use objectively unreasonable force against civilians, particularly Black and Brown people, and thereafter are not held accountable. 

ACLU-LA is urging the U.S. Attorney’s Office to scrutinize the data and evidence collected by ProPublica and WWNO in its intensive year-long investigation into JPSO, as well as the ACLU’s five pending lawsuits against the agency.

“The history of JPSO’s conduct does nothing more than underscore what the statistics and the stories of the victims already tell us: in the absence of external oversight, more Black and Brown lives will be traumatized and lost,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “The ProPublica report and the ACLU’s litigation together, clearly reveal long-standing racist policies, practices, and customs that have etched deep wounds in communities of color, and which must be immediately addressed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office can and should step in to rectify the deeply troubling trends that preserve this country’s racist history.”

The ACLU’s letter was sent to Evans after the organization filed its fifth case against JPSO. Along with law firms Cooley LLP and Aaron & Gianna, PLC, ACLU-LA is representing Ms. Nathasia Paul—a Black woman who lived in Metairie, LA—in a civil rights lawsuit against Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III, Deputy Chief of Special Investigations Curtis P. Matthews, and five law enforcement officers from JPSO who barged into Ms. Paul’s home to investigate a purported anonymous complaint about her personal use of marijuana. Over the course of an hour, the officers interrogated Ms. Paul, intimidated her, confiscated her cell phone, handcuffed her, and searched her apartment—all without a warrant, without her consent, and without any valid basis.  

“The U.S. Constitution protects all citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. Here, five JPSO officers flagrantly violated Ms. Paul’s rights by invading the sanctity of her home and conducting an illegal search and arrest, leaving her traumatized and fearful of being in her own home. What’s worse, four of those officers had previously been sued for civil rights violations,” said Randall R. Lee, a partner at Cooley LLP. “This disturbing encounter reflects a clear failure by the JPSO to supervise and train its own officers—as shown by the JPSO’s long history of constitutional violations against Black people.”

The encounter between JPSO and Ms. Paul took place against a backdrop of racist policing across the nation and specifically in Jefferson Parish, which is notorious for its racial bias and police misconduct, ranking worse than 95% of other police departments in the United States in racial disparity and use of deadly force.

The ACLU’s letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office lists data that confirms the agency’s discrimination against Black and Brown people—their well-settled policies, practices, and customs disproportionately subject people of color to excessive violence and, in many cases, death. The data reveals deeply concerning trends:

  • Based on data collected from 2013 to 2020, a Black person was 11.3 times as likely to be killed by police than a white person in Jefferson Parish.
  • Though Black people made up only 27% of the Jefferson Parish population, they made up 73% of the people killed by the police.
  • 40 people have been shot by JPSO officers since 2013, of which 73% were Black. The officers’ statements in at least 12 of 35 incidents are disputed by witnesses or the victims themselves.
  • Since 2015, at least 12 men and boys have died during an arrest or pursuit by JPSO. All were Black or Latino; three were minors.
  • Since 2018, at least five Black people have been killed by JPSO.
  • The racial disparity in deadly force by JPSO is worse than 95% of other police departments.

The statistics are further buttressed by 30 federal civil rights lawsuits filed against JPSO since 2010, the vast majority of which involve excessive force against people of color. JPSO’s open history of excessive violence against Black and Brown people evinces the agency’s longtime failure to train JPSO officers to avoid the use of excessive force and its failure to discipline those officers who engage in such uses of force. Because JPSO has been allowed to act with impunity for years, Black and Brown people subject to such abuse have largely had no remedy or recourse—especially when, unbeknownst to many, the one-year statute of limitations runs on the prospect of seeking accountability through a federal civil rights legal action. 

The ACLU’s letter states that “both quantitative and qualitative data provide a sufficient basis for the USAO for the Eastern District of Louisiana to initiate a patternor-practice investigation.”

To view the full letter, click here: