Intensive litigation effort files 30 lawsuits in less than a year, defeats Heck bar and overcomes qualified immunity in early case against Lafayette police
NEW ORLEANS – In 2021, ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial campaign collected more than 400 complaints of police misconduct statewide, filed upwards of 30 cases against law enforcement officers, and documented countless stories from survivors and family members impacted by police violence throughout the state. But the team didn’t stop there. This summer, in a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice, ACLU demanded a pattern or practice investigation into misconduct by the Louisiana State Police. And later in the year, the affiliate called upon the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana to scrutinize the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office long-standing racist policies, practices, and customs that have etched deep wounds in communities of color.
The campaign also celebrated a significant milestone when the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana ruled that the lawsuit of Mr. Raynaldo Sampy, a young man who was brutalized during the course of an arrest by seven Lafayette City Parish police officers, may proceed. Because Mr. Sampy was convicted of battery of a police officer, defendants anticipated an easy Heck and qualified immunity win on their motion to dismiss. Heck bars a plaintiff who has been convicted of a crime from recovering damages for constitutional violations if he cannot show the alleged violations and underlying conviction are separable and conceptually distinct. Defendants lost on both Heck and qualified immunity grounds, which represents an early victory for Justice Lab.
“We’ve experienced tremendous success in Justice Lab’s first year and this is only the beginning,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “Through this campaign, we’ve been able to respond to the needs of our communities of color, who have had enough of the oppressive policing practices that have devastated this state for years. As we grow the campaign over the next decade, ACLU of Louisiana will work towards dismantling the systemic racism that plagues policing from the ground up, eventually shifting the numerous false narratives that condone police abuse here in Louisiana and across the nation. Together, we will continue the fight for Black lives and build a future where no child has to grow up in fear of being killed by the police.”
With the help of 50 partner law firms*, 20 law school legal clinics, and 150 in-house counsel volunteers, Justice Lab has filed dozens of lawsuits ranging from first amendment retaliatory arrest, to racial profiling, to use of excessive and lethal force. The campaign has sued 25 police departments in 15 parishes throughout the state, with six pending lawsuits against Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office and five against Louisiana State Police — two law enforcement agencies with a deep-rooted history of racially discriminatory policing and cruelty toward residents of color.
Justice Lab’s most recent lawsuits against Louisiana State Police include:
- Monroe v. Conner et al.: Mr. Anthony Monroe is being represented in a civil rights action against state troopers from the Louisiana State Police for the illegal arrest and use of excessive force against him on November 29, 2019 . Mr. Monroe was another unarmed, nonthreatening Black man who was just trying to make it home after work before being violently brutalized by those meant to serve and protect him.
- Stewart v. Loftin et al.: Mr. Glen Stewart is being represented in a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement officers with the Richland Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana State Police. On the evening of November 7, 2020, a Louisiana State Trooper with the infamously violent Troop F — along with two other police officers — violently and unjustifiably assaulted Mr. Stewart.
- Nevarez v. Coleman et al.: The surviving wife and children of Mr. Miguel Nevarez, a 36-year-old Afro-Latino man who officers fatally shot 17 times in October 2020, is being represented in a lawsuit naming six Houma Police Department officers — including the chief, the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the Louisiana State Police — for the unjust seizure and wrongful death of Mr. Nevarez.
Since the program’s launch, the ACLU of Louisiana has refined and expanded Justice Lab in response to community feedback, incorporating non-litigation support and partnering with directly-impacted communities to combat police violence at the grassroots level. The new, comprehensive website holds a wealth of resources, including an interactive heat map of police violence across Louisiana.
*View quotes about Justice Lab from law firm partners below.
To learn more about Justice Lab, visit aclujusticelab.org.
“Cooley is proud of its ongoing partnership with Justice Lab and its efforts to expose unconstitutional police practices. Through Justice Lab, we’ll continue to advance our quest for a more just society.” - Randall Lee, Partner, Cooley LLP.
“Roche Freedman is thrilled to partner with the ACLU of Louisiana to bring litigation challenging racialized policing in Louisiana. The sobering facts of the cases reinforce the importance of the work the ACLU and the other collaborating firms and stakeholders are undertaking in an effort to assist deserving clients and bring meaningful change. We look forward to our continued collaboration in this important work.”
“It is an honor to partner with the ACLU of Louisiana, and we are inspired by their tireless advocacy on behalf of our joint clients and on behalf of justice as a whole, as well as for the courage of our clients to stand up for what is right.” - Luke Liss, Senior Counsel and Pro Bono Counsel, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati PC.
“Justice Lab has provided a meaningful opportunity to work hand-in-hand with the ACLU of Louisiana to effectuate change and shine a spotlight on injustices afflicting communities of color.” - Keith Y. Cohan, Partner at Reid Collins & Tsai LLP
“Perkins Coie is honored to work alongside the ACLU of Louisiana in its Justice Lab initiative to advance critical litigation in the ongoing fight against racial injustice and police violence.”
“Holwell Shuster & Goldberg is honored to be a partner of the ACLU of Louisiana in combating unlawful police violence against people of color. It’s a privilege to serve clients whose voices might otherwise go unheard.”