Los Angeles – December 1, 2021 – Cooley, alongside the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and New Orleans-based Aaron & Gianna, is representing Nathasia Paul, a Black resident of Metairie, Louisiana, in a civil rights action against multiple law enforcement officers from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office (JPSO) for their racially motivated violations of Paul's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Lawyers Randall Lee, Amanda Main, Tijana Brien, Benjamin Lin, Hazel Verdin and Sam Blankenship are leading the Cooley team.
The case arises out of an encounter Paul had with JPSO officers while alone in her own home. The lawsuit alleges that five JPSO officers forcibly entered Paul's home to investigate a purported anonymous complaint about her personal use of marijuana. Over the course of an hour, the officers interrogated and intimidated Paul, confiscated her cellphone, handcuffed her and searched her apartment all without a warrant, without her consent and without any valid basis. The lawsuit, which was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, also alleges that Sheriff Joseph P. Lopinto III and Deputy Chief of Special Investigations Curtis P. Matthews violated Paul's rights by failing to properly train and supervise the five JPSO officers who searched her home and arrested her without a warrant.
In a letter addressed to US Attorney Duane Evans and the Office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the ACLU called for a pattern or practice investigation into misconduct by the JPSO. The demand comes after growing concern and historical evidence that JPSO officers target and use objectively unreasonable force against civilians, particularly people of color, and thereafter are not held accountable. The ACLU urged the US Attorney's Office to scrutinize the data and evidence collected by ProPublica and radio station WWNO in an intensive yearlong investigation into JPSO, as well as its five pending lawsuits against the agency.
"The history of JPSO's conduct does nothing more than underscore what the statistics and the stories of the victims already tell us: in the absence of external oversight, more Black and Brown lives will be traumatized and lost," Alanah Odoms, ACLU of Louisiana's executive director, said in a news release. "The ProPublica report and the ACLU's litigation together, clearly reveal long-standing racist policies, practices, and customs that have etched deep wounds in communities of color, and which must be immediately addressed. The US Attorney's Office can and should step in to rectify the deeply troubling trends that preserve this country's racist history."
"The US Constitution protects all citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement officers. Here, five JPSO officers flagrantly violated Ms. Paul's rights by invading the sanctity of her home and conducting an illegal search and arrest, leaving her traumatized and fearful of being in her own home. What's worse, four of those officers had previously been sued for civil rights violations," Lee said. "This disturbing encounter reflects a clear failure by the JPSO to supervise and train its own officers – as shown by the JPSO's long history of constitutional violations against Black people."
The case is part of the ACLU of Louisiana's litigation campaign to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices. Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial seeks to bring up to 1,000 cases in Louisiana challenging racially motivated stops and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments and any other applicable laws. As part of the firm's commitment to being an active agent of change, Cooley signed on as a Justice Lab participant in June 2020 and has worked on several cases throughout the project, including the representation of Bilal Hankins in a civil rights action.