Settlements award nearly $50K over string of illegal arrests

Six people who accused law enforcement officers in a rural Louisiana community of illegally detaining and secretly jailing them will share settlement proceeds totaling nearly $50,000, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests.

The six plaintiffs sharing $47,500 in settlement proceeds represent a fraction of the cases in which law enforcement officers in Evangeline Parish have been accused of using unconstitutional “investigative holds” to detain people for questioning.

A 2016 report by the Justice Department said the Ville Platte Police Department and Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office used the practice more than 900 times between 2012 and 2014. The report also said unconstitutional arrests were a routine part of criminal investigations in Evangeline Parish for more than two decades.

Earlier this year, settlement agreements resolved two federal lawsuits over the investigative holds. One of the cases was resolved before a judge could decide whether to certify it as a class action that could benefit many more people.

But a court decision last year effectively ruled out any compensation for most people who were subjected to investigative holds. In November, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna recommended dismissing three people’s claims because they were freed from jail more than a year before their lawyers sued the city of Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office over the arrests

Hanna rejected arguments by plaintiffs’ lawyers that a one-year statute of limitations shouldn’t apply in this case because people were told to keep silent.

The Justice Department began investigating in April 2015. Its report said people often were strip-searched, held in cells without beds, toilets or showers and detained for at least three days — sometimes much longer — without getting a chance to talk to loved ones or contest their arrests. Detectives told federal investigators they used these investigative holds when they didn’t have sufficient grounds for an arrest but had a “hunch” or “feeling” that somebody may be involved in criminal activity.

Evangeline Parish Sheriff Eddie Soileau and Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Monday.

In June, the Justice Department said it reached agreements with the police department and sheriff’s office to end their “pattern or practice” of using illegal investigative holds.

Evangeline Parish is approximately 80 miles west of Baton Rouge and has a population of roughly 34,000 residents. Ville Platte has approximately 7,300 residents, with black people accounting for 64 percent of the city’s population.

Federal officials said “deficient record keeping” by the local police and sheriff’s office made it impossible to tell how the arrests affected particular racial or ethnic groups.

One of the six plaintiffs receiving a share of the $47,500 in settlement proceeds is a woman who said she was pregnant in 2013 when Ville Platte police jailed her for more than two days without charges after a detective interrogated her about witnessing a home invasion. Another settling plaintiff said he was jailed for 11 days without being charged after a 2013 arrest.

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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