NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed their second lawsuit against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office. The lawsuit, filed in partnership with Linklaters LLP, states that several deputies racially profiled and unjustly interrogated two Black men in Bogalusa, Louisiana. From their parked patrol car, the officers watched Mr. Bruce Washington and Mr. Gregory Lane at a gas station, tailed them for a mile after they left, then later pulled the men over for an alleged traffic violation. The deputies proceeded to conduct pat-down searches on Mr. Washington and Mr. Lane while verbally accosting them and preventing them from calling a lawyer. 

“This case demonstrates a continued prevalence of what appears to be nothing more than a pattern of racial profiling in Louisiana,” said ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed. “Our clients were stopped in a predominantly white area by officers from an agency that has a documented track record of targeting Black people. This is a textbook case of why people took to the streets in 2020 and why, sadly, this nation and our state still have so far to go. Justice Lab will continue to expose the everyday injustices people of color face at the hands of law enforcement. Ideally, our legal system will not force our clients to wait as long as Homer Plessy’s family did for the Constitution’s guarantees to ring true for them.”

The ACLU’s lawsuit asserts violations of Mr. Washington’s and Mr. Lane’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Louisiana Constitution and Louisiana state common and statutory laws for the officers’ unlawful and unreasonable seizures, the unlawful detention of Mr. Lane, and the racial discrimination suffered by both plaintiffs. The suit also asserts claims against the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office for their failure to supervise and investigate the incident appropriately.

Following the incident last March, Mr. Washington and Mr. Lane attempted to file a complaint against the officers at multiple St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office locations but were turned away by employees every time – with some accusing them of being unreasonably upset about receiving a traffic ticket, telling them to “get out of [their] office,” and stating that they would never write-up one of their deputies.

ACLU of Louisiana’s first lawsuit against deputies of the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office was filed last May on behalf of Teliah Perkins, a Black woman who was violently arrested by two deputies at her own home in response to a minor traffic violation she didn’t commit. During the attack, which was recorded by her child, the officers seized Ms. Perkins by the arms and forced her to the ground, pressing her face into the pavement and digging their knees and elbows into her back and legs. In this case, the agency has continued to defend their actions as completely lawful and to the benefit of Ms. Perkins, justifying the gruesome video.  

*Allegations in Washington et al. v. Smith et al. concerning the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office’s (STPSO) unconstitutional policing practices:

  • In 2010, former St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Rodney “Jack” Strain confirmed the department’s racist practices by stating that, “if you’re gonna walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy . . . you can guarantee that things that you got away with in this city will not be tolerated in this parish.”
    • Given the common association of dreadlocks with African Americans, Sheriff Strain’s comments openly stated a policy of targeting Black people on an unconstitutional basis.
  • In 2014, several high-ranking detectives at the STPSO were exposed for exchanging racist and offensive emails amongst each other. Several of these racist emails included jokes about African Americans, often referring to them as “monkeys” and “animals.”
    • Upon information and belief, these high-ranking detectives were not fired. 
  • The practice of racial profiling, which is based only on a person’s skin color and not on reasonable suspicion, plagues the United States. In this country, Black adults are about five times more likely than white adults to report being unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity.
  • The disparate treatment Black individuals face in St. Tammany Parish is evidenced by the pervasive racist culture the STPSO maintains.
  • St. Tammany Parish is predominantly white. According to the 2021 U.S. Census, the St. Tammany population is approximately 83.2% white. Only around 12.7% of the population in St. Tammany was Black or African American in 2021.
  • The area of Covington, Louisiana, is known for racial profiling by police. One of our clients had personal experience being frequently stopped in Covington, which is a primary reason why he usually avoided that area and moved to Mandeville several years ago.
  • STPSO’s claim that it has no record of any complaints made by the Plaintiffs despite our clients’ repeated and fruitless attempts of filing a complaint demonstrates, at best, the absolute lack of transparency of its practices and policy and, at worst, an intent to cover up citizen complaints of misconduct. 
  • Defendant Smith’s failure to supervise bad actors, along with Defendant Smith’s tacit approval of STPSO employees’ conduct has enabled an extraordinarily difficult (if not, nonexistent) complaints process. As a result, not only were our clients denied the basic right to file a complaint, but the process also further compounded the emotional distress from the indignity they suffered during the incident. 
  • Defendant Smith has enabled STPSO’s policies, customs, and practices exhibiting deliberate indifference to the rights of people of color. Such indifference has fostered an environment in which deputies suffer no consequences nor expect to be held accountable for their blatant disrespect of people of color.
  • The FY2021 STPSO Budget Book states that the Internal Affairs Department investigated 30 external complaints in 2019 and “responded to and investigated complaints” in 2020. The Budget Book projected that the Internal Affairs Department would investigate 35 external complaints in 2021.
  • Given the numerous external complaints investigated by the Internal Affairs Department, Defendant Smith and STPSO were on notice that several of their deputies have been engaging in misconduct. 
  • Defendant Smith’s policies, practices, and customs of failing to supervise STPSO deputies were the moving force and the proximate and producing cause of our clients’ damages.