Frontier “justice” may have recently come to an end in certain rural parts of Louisiana. Capping an investigation that started a few years ago, the U.S. Justice Department has announced that it has entered into agreements with local governments in the city of Ville Platte and in Evangeline Parish, which are located about 80 miles west of Baton Rouge. The police in those localities, apparently oblivious to such things as constitutional law, were accustomed for many years to arresting and holding people for questioning without due process, including with no criminal defense counsel, arraignment, bail or other required protections.
Some victims of the practice were strip searched and held without process for days, according to the Justice Department. The ‘holds’ were conducted without probable cause, making them unconstitutional violations of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Part of the agreements require the city and the Parish to better train their officers to assure that the practice will not start up again.
The communities agreed also to keep better arrest and detention records. The Justice Department started the investigation in 2015 and issued a report in 2016, citing a “staggering” number of illegal holds for such a rural and sparsely populated area. There were nearly 1,000 such detentions in the parish and the city combined over a two-year period that were investigated.
Two separate class-action lawsuits were filed and successfully settled recently. The settlement terms were undisclosed. It is shocking to the criminal defense bar to see that standards of law enforcement could fall so low and be carried out in a systematically unconstitutional manner. The investigation begs the question of whether there are other areas of Louisiana that have ingrained such nefarious practices into their belief systems. If a suspect is treated in a similarly illegal manner it is crucial to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney without delay and to provide no discussion or communication with authorities during illegal detentions.