Civil Liberties

Driver Beaten by Louisiana Cops Faces Second Trial After Acquittal


According to the official police version of what happened to Shane Gates on November 16, 2006, he led St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, sheriff's deputies on a high-speed chase, after which he emerged from his car, stinking drunk, and "started wrestling" with one of the officers, who called for backup. Another deputy helped subdue Gates by "falling on the suspect" and holding him; during the struggle Gates suffered a "half-inch laceration." Last July a jury did not buy this story, finding Gates not guilty of felony unlawful flight after deliberating for less than half an hour—"one of the speediest acquittals in St. Tammany in recent memory," according to WWL-TV, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. Here are some of the details that may have given the jurors pause:

1. Twenty minutes before the traffic stop, Gates—who supposedly had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.273 percent, more than three times the legal limit—bought the brand new Pontiac GTO he was driving at a car dealership in Slidell, about 17 minutes away. 

2. "The medical reports showing the blood test have mysteriously disappeared."

3. "An expert witness said the chase actually lasted for only six-tenths of a mile and 80 seconds."

4. "Gates, who weighs 145 pounds, was handcuffed and pepper-sprayed by two deputies, each weighing more than 200 pounds."

5. "His so-called 'minor injuries' required two surgeries and 27 stitches, and he is awaiting another one to repair nerve damage to his face. Meanwhile, the deputies didn't suffer a single scratch."

6. "The deputy who stopped Gates…admitted he later resigned from the sheriff's office after he was found guilty of violating several departmental rules, including falsifying testimony and sleeping on the job."

7. "The deputy who caused Gates' injuries…has since been demoted from detective for an unspecified violation."

Gates, who denies drinking that day, says the deputies threw him against the hood of a police car and handcuffed him, then began beating him because he lifted his face off the hood, which was uncomfortably hot. Summarizing his account, WWL-TV says "he was first pepper-sprayed, then thrown to the asphalt where a deputy repeatedly pounded his face into the pavement," which is how he got "a snaking laceration that almost tore off [his] left eyelid."

Gates' lawyer says last summer's trial, nearly six years after the incident, was part of an effort to obstruct the civil rights lawsuit that Gates filed in 2007. Still to come: a trial for driving while intoxicated and resisting arrest, charges based on the same dubious tale a jury already has unanimously rejected. "It would be in the best interest of the sheriff's office to have a resisting arrest conviction in a matter where there was a civil case," a lawyer for the office conceded during the first trial. "I know that everything we have done in this case has been ethical and appropriate," says St. Tammany Sheriff Jack Strain. "We look forward to having the evidence presented at the defendant's trial."

[Thanks to Richard Feldman for the tip.]