Washington v. Smith is the second lawsuit brought against the Sheriff’s Office by Mr. Bruce Washington, who is challenging three separate instances of officers violating his constitutional rights
NEW ORLEANS—The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Linklaters LLP have filed a second lawsuit against four deputies with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office (STPSO), as well as several members of the agency’s leadership.
The lawsuit, which marks the ACLU of Louisiana’s fifth equal protection case, challenges STPSO’s pattern and practice of racial profiling and unconstitutional searches of Black individuals, as well as its approval of the violations of Mr. Bruce Washington’s rights during a pretextual traffic stop.
On January 13, 2023, Mr. Washington, a 54-year-old Black man and resident of Bogalusa, Louisiana, was driving on Highway 121 when he was ordered to pull over by STPSO officers. The officers extended the stop for an alleged traffic offense by questioning and searching Mr. Washington and his vehicle without his consent or probable cause.
The incident is one of three separate encounters that Mr. Washington is alleging STPSO violated his constitutional rights. He was previously stopped and searched in March 2021 and again in October 2023. He had already filed a lawsuit for the first incident when the second and third incidents took place. The first lawsuit overcame summary judgment and the defendants’ appeal to the Fifth Circuit. It is currently awaiting trial.
The new lawsuit asserts violations of Mr. Washington’s rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, Article 1 Section 5 of the Louisiana Constitution, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Louisiana state common and statutory laws. It also asserts claims against STPSO for its explicit approval of the officers’ unconstitutional conduct, racial profiling and failure to supervise and train its officers in the parameters of constitutional searches.
At the core of the new lawsuit is STPSO’s pattern of racially discriminatory traffic stops, searches, and seizures.
Prior to filing the second lawsuit, the ACLU of Louisiana conducted a demographic analysis of traffic stop data obtained via multiple rounds of public records requests to the STPSO.s. Findings showed that from January through November of 2023, Black individuals in St. Tammany Parish were 250% more likely to be stopped for alleged traffic violations than white individuals. While 15% of the Parish’s residents identify as Black, these individuals account for 36% of the people stopped for alleged traffic violations and 26% of the people cited for those violations.
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We are a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy's dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues—championing change makers and pursuing strategic litigation at home and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice.
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