NEW ORLEANS —The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Ms. Deanna Thomas, an unhoused 56-year-old woman was handcuffed, violently thrown on the ground, and kneeled on by East Jefferson Levee District Police Department officers while being arrested for residing on a levee in Kenner, LA. The officers also seized and destroyed Ms. Thomas’s property including her birth certificate, and irreplaceable personal effects.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana had previously ruled in favor of the defendants, agreeing that because Ms. Thomas could neither show an injury resulting from her arrest sufficient to sustain her excessive force claim, she failed to show a violation of her constitutional rights. 

The Fifth Circuit Court disagreed and reversed the dismissal of Ms. Thomas’s lawsuit as to her excessive force claim. 

“This win is a huge vindication for Ms. Thomas and everyone else who has experienced houselessness,” said Nora Ahmed, ACLU of Louisiana legal director. “Everyone, including police officers, should be held accountable for centering humanity and compassion in their work, especially as it concerns the most vulnerable members of our community.”

In its decision, the court stated Ms. Thomas did produce evidence to show that officers “used excessive force, in violation of clearly established law, by throwing her to the ground while she was restrained and subdued.”

Thomas v. Tewis marks the first Fifth Circuit victory this year for the ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab initiative, which seeks to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices and combat police violence against people of color through intensive litigation. As of late 2023, the Justice Lab has secured half a million dollars in awards for victims of racist policing in Louisiana.

View full decision from the Fifth Circuit Court.