DoJ Report On Louisiana 4th Amendment Abuse
December 23, 2016 (Fault Lines) – The United States Department of Justice is the best of the best at violating your constitutional rights. An inside job is always most effective, so it’s not surprising the one branch of government that should be most concerned with constitutional rights seems…the least concerned.
But it is the holidays. In the spirit of giving, Justice released a report earlier this week that should give us faith the Constitution still means something to somebody up there (for now). Apparently the cops in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana, haven’t gotten the message. Maybe a veiled threat from the Department of Justice will do the trick.
Constitutional rights are pretty trendy these days, as long as they are the First and Second Amendment. Beyond talking and shooting, the regular American doesn’t give a damn about what else might be in the Bill of Rights. Which is too bad, because there is some pretty useful stuff in there.
Leading the way in usefulness is the Fourth Amendment. The regular citizen thinks of it as the “loophole.” A well-meaning but outclassed local police officer innocently happens upon a cartel transportation convoy. Some slick hired gun of a defense lawyer cruises in and points out some silly lack of a warrant or whatnot and the criminal is free to go because the constable has blundered.
In reality, of course, the Fourth Amendment is the least likely of the loopholes. It’s not quite a unicorn, but it’s pretty damn close. Its problem is one of utility. The theory that police shouldn’t be allowed to randomly kick down our doors and search our houses at will may be a noble point of objection. But it’s also one that most people aren’t subject to. As long as the police are kicking down doors down in the bad section of town, most people have more important things to worry about.
Or so you think. Apathy about the Fourth Amendment has come home to roost in Evangeline Parish, where both the Ville Platte Police Department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Department have been utilizing a powerful investigative tool to fight crime.
Usually an investigation ends in an arrest. Turning that idea on its head, these agencies have decided to think outside of the box, using an arrest as part of the investigation.
VPPD and EPSO have used these arrests, called “investigative holds,” as a regular part of their criminal investigations, inducing people to provide information to officers under threat of continued wrongful incarceration. The arrests include individuals suspected (without sufficient evidence) of committing crimes, as well as their family members and potential witnesses. The individuals who are improperly arrested are strip-searched, placed in holding cells without beds, toilets, or showers, and denied communication with family members and loved ones. Individuals are commonly detained for 72 hours or more without being provided an opportunity to contest their arrest and detention. Instead, they are held and questioned until they either provide information or the law enforcement agency determines that they do not have information related to a crime.
The report reflects the Department of Justice’s concern that people might confess to a crime just to end the “secret and indefinite confinement.” But, again, do you really care about these people? They were suspected of committing a crime, so maybe it’s their own fault they ended up in the gulag parish jail.
Not that it matters, but it’s not just suspects that end up in the slammer. Witnesses are subject to the same treatment. DOJ’s report talks about a woman who may have witnessed an armed robbery while grocery shopping. When questioned by police, she told them she had not actually seen the robbery. The Ville Platt Police Department didn’t believe her, and she got treated more like a robber than a witness.
…the officer took the woman, her boyfriend, and a 16-year old who was staying at their house into custody at the jail. Officers strip-searched the woman, who was menstruating at the time, and forced her to remove her tampon. VPPD officers then placed her in custody overnight—first in a holding cell and then in the Jail’s general population—without access to sanitary products. According to the woman, roughly nine hours later, VPPD detectives removed her from detention to question her about the shooting. The district attorney participated in this interrogation. VPPD officers also held the woman’s boyfriend overnight in a holding cell, and held the juvenile in a separate holding cell for at least seven hours before releasing him to a family member. None of these individuals were suspected of having any connection to the robbery or shooting, yet detectives incarcerated them for significant periods of time before showing them a line up and asking questions about what they may have witnessed.
This wasn’t just some exaggeration from a disgruntled citizen; the chief of police confirmed the events. But the story raises two even more serious concerns. First, the chief of police told the woman when she complained that the arrest was pursuant to department policy. But even more concerning, a prosecutor was involved.
The arrests in Louisiana aren’t isolated events, nor are they the work of some rogue cops. The policy starts at the top, and is endorsed by the chief of police and, apparently, a district attorney. How does this happen? An American city is governed by law enforcement as though it was an old Soviet Russian village.
The report ends with a veiled threat that the Department will work with the police departments to solve the problem. And if the departments don’t want to cooperate, the Justice Department will take appropriate legal action. The Justice Department has a pretty big stick, but whether it will be effective or not depends on the people’s support for any action they might take.
Our lack of concern for constitutional rights has left those with power, like the police, under the impression that there is little they can’t do to us. The Justice Department’s report cites years of Fourth Amendment violations, with seemingly little objection from the people. So maybe the police and prosecutors are right.
It’s one thing to think of blatant violations of constitutional rights in the abstract. The Louisiana report should give people serious pause. Apathy about our rights leads directly to the type of behavior taking place in Louisiana. Any criminal defense lawyer can tell you that the Louisiana police are pretty blatant about it, but what they are doing is hardly isolated.
As the new year begins, it’s time to pay more attention to what is going on in our backyard. We can complain all we want about police abusing our rights, but if we let them, who is really responsible?