Police Abuse

Meet the Community in Louisiana Where Police Throw People in Jail First and Then Investigate

Justice Dept. threatens intervention to stop unconstituional 'investigative holds.'

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Arrested
Flynt / Dreamstime.com

Imagine being treated the same way a person arrested for a felony is treated—brought into jail, strip searched, imprisoned—even though you aren't arrested. Worse yet, imagine being treated that way because you might have been a witness to a crime and police wanted to interview you.

That's exactly what had been happening down in Louisiana in Evangeline Parrish (population 33,500) and its town of Ville Platte (population 7,300). According a long-term Department of Justice investigation that was just released in December, police and sheriff's offices there had a long-established practice of jailing people for days without charges or warrants as "investigative holds." The practice is extremely unconstitutional but apparently had been policy.

Police held people for days without charging them with crimes, but often suspected them of having committed crimes. According to the DOJ report the detention was partly because the police thought these people were guilty of something but lacked actual evidence, so police used the opportunity to keep them behind bars while they looked for something to hit them with. They were forced to sleep on the floor in jail and were not allowed to contact the outside world and let people know what had happened to them. They were essentially "disappeared" by law enforcement officials:

Investigative holds initiated by [Ville Platte Police Department] VPPD often last for 72 hours—and sometimes significantly longer—forcing detainees to spend multiple nights sleeping on a concrete floor or metal bench. Indeed, VPPD's booking logs indicate that, from 2012-2014, several dozen investigative holds extended for at least a full week. During this time, VPPD exerts control over the detainees' liberty: The detained person is not permitted to make phone calls to let family or employers know where they are, and have access to bathrooms and showers only when taken into the jail's general population area.

Similarly, [Evangeline Parrish Sheriff's Office] EPSO's investigative holds often last for three full days. During that time, detainees are forced to sleep on the Parish Jail's concrete floor. One EPSO deputy reported that he saw someone held without a warrant or a probable cause determination for more than six days. As with VPPD, EPSO also controls the detainee's liberty. EPSO does not permit detainees who are "on hold" to make phone calls to let family or employers know their whereabouts. Indeed, we were told that certain detectives have threatened EPSO jail officers (referred to as "jailers" in the Parish Jail) with retaliation if the officers allowed detainees to make phone calls. One EPSO jail officer described an incident in which an EPSO detective reprimanded him after the jail officer provided toothpaste and other personal supplies to a person locked in the holding cell.

These investigative holds are not even ostensibly supported by probable cause. Both EPSO and VPPD detectives acknowledged that they use investigative holds where they lack sufficient evidence to make an arrest, but instead have a "hunch" or "feeling" that a person may be involved in criminal activity. One VPPD officer noted that they use investigative holds specifically where the officer needs more time to develop evidence to support a lawful arrest. Similarly, an EPSO detective described using investigative holds when he had "a pretty good feeling" or a "gut instinct" that a certain individual was connected to a crime.

The DOJ report goes on that it was not just suspects who were treated this way. They even locked up people they thought might be witnesses to a crime, meaning just about anybody could have been subjected to this treatment:

For example, one woman told us that VPPD officers detained her and her family in 2014 after a grocery shopping trip during which they may have witnessed an armed robbery and shooting. The woman was on her way home with her groceries when a VPPD officer stopped her. She told the officer that she did not see the robbery and that she had no information about the crime. After she got home and dropped off her groceries, another VPPD officer came to her house and commanded her to come to the police station to answer questions. The woman recounted—and Chief Lartigue confirmed—that 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. The day after being released, the woman called Chief Lartigue to complain about her treatment. Chief Lartigue responded that the detention was pursuant to department policy.

Another woman was detained with two small children and kept in holding cells (the kids were eventually released to family members) for questioning about an armed robbery. She spent days in custody without being charged but also not being permitted to leave. Eventually after 72 hours they charged her with armed robbery to keep her in custody. Local media reported the arrest, but the charges were subsequently dropped and she told the DOJ that she still has no idea why the police ever charged her in connection with the case.

The DOJ details the constitutional problems and Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations—which should be obvious even to laypeople—with the detentions. There was no judicial review. No magistrate was evaluating and ruling on the probable cause to hold these people, because clearly there often was none. If police brought these people before a judge they'd be ordered to let them go. The police were also using the detentions to interrogate and get incriminating statements from those they've snagged in order to try to get convictions, but given that the detentions were unlawful, any confessions would run up against Fifth Amendment protections against compelled self-incrimination.

Unfortunately, the report notes, the record-keeping with these law enforcement agencies was poor enough that they were unable to evaluate the extent of the consequences of this. That is to say: They have no idea how many people were either convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes based on information or confessions the police gathered illegally or whether they've sent innocent people to prison because of it. The DOJ does have "grave concerns" that these detentions have led to wrongful convictions.

Apparently the law enforcement agencies involved are cooperative with the DOJ's investigation and the report concludes with calls for a court-enforced reform program to, among other things, teach police that you can't just put people in jail cells while you investigate them. The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ is prepared to sue if they can't reach an agreement with the law enforcement agencies involved.

Read the report here. And before thinking to yourself "Oh, those racist Southern towns and their Boss Hogg sheriffs," remember that what this report describes is eerily similar to the practices Chicago Police have just as recently been accused of at Homan Square.

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  1. brought into jail, strip searched, imprisoned?even though you aren’t arrested

    Pretty sure you actually have been arrested, you know. Just not charged with anything.

    A seizure or forcible restraint; an exercise of the power to deprive a person of his or her liberty; the taking or keeping of a person in custody by legal authority, especially, in response to a criminal charge. . . .

    The test used to determine whether an arrest took place in a particular case is objective, and it turns on whether a reasonable person under these circumstances would believe he or she was restrained or free to go.

    http://legal-dictionary.thefre…..com/arrest

    Note that being charged is not a necessary element of the definition of arrest. The notion that “investigative holds” are not arrests is a fantasy promulgated by the Police-Industrial Complex.

    1. I’m sure SCOTUS can find a way to square that circle when the need arises. They’ve already given the police great leeway to make up law on the spot, why stop them now?

      1. I haven’t checked, but as members in good standing of the Police-Industrial Complex, I assume the judiciary has signed off on investigative holds as being totes legit, because New Professionalism, or something.

        1. New Professionalism

          It is interesting to me that professionalism is no longer defined by standards of conduct.

          1. The New Professionalism is established by the presence of a badge… or not… because FYTW.

            1. One of the reasons I didn’t mourn the death of Scalia, the highest ranking badge-licker in the country.

          2. “One EPSO deputy reported that he saw someone held without a warrant or a probable cause determination for more than six days.”

            And said deputy did exactly what about it? Earning the hate one unlawful act at a time, but it was okay because it was policy compliant. Which did they swear an oath to uphold? Proving once again that only a fool trusts the cops.

        2. Just like material witness arrests.

  2. Just imagine how bad things would be if we didn’t live under strict rule of law.

    1. Rule of law is an abstract ideal like non-aggression or self-ownership.

    2. Yeah, North Korea is a paradise.

      1. Summary execution for making an international phone call.

    3. What makes you think we do?

  3. According to the DOJ report the detention was partly because the police thought these people were guilty of something but lacked actual evidence, so police used the opportunity to keep them behind bars while they looked for something to hit them with.

    AKA the Kamala Harris Gambit.

  4. This article by Scott (similar to other articles by Scott and other writers at H&R) reminded me of a few things, among them was how hard it is for me to inform individuals whom I know of these types of abuses without the individuals “shutting down” and denying whatever evidence I may have (e.g., this particular article, the information for which Scott provided links, my own research motivated by the article, et cetera).

    This in turn reminds me of how some of us who regularly contribute comments here at H&R tend to favor sarcasm, cynicism, et cetera.

    1. Yeah, well, that’s just like your opinion man.

    2. …woodchippers…

  5. Over/under on the number of officers (including supervisory officers) who will be punished for this is set at 0.5. I know which way I’m betting.

  6. Wait, weren’t Suthenboy and I just talking about Ville Platte this morning? Spoooooooky.

    1. I thought the same thing when I read it. You were lucky to escape!!!

      1. Apparently, they Feared The Jew.

        Holy shit.

        1. As a side note, I’ve got a (((buddy))) that’s both from Louisiana and a jew. He insists that for cajun jews, anything you can catch and eat is kosher. 🙂

          1. ‘ve got a (((buddy))) that’s both from Louisiana and a jew

            That has to be a strange and schizophrenic feeling!

            1. Who was Judah P. Benjamin, chopped liver?

              1. Gefilte fish at best. Made from gator and muskrat.

            2. I have a friend who is a gay Jew who grew up in Opelika, Alabama. Holy Fuck!

      2. I also had the realization while reading the article that I’d never heard of the place before this morning, and now I’ve read about it twice.

  7. Adding this to the ongoing pile of Reason articles titled “Things Non-Libertarians Don’t Believe Until They See It With Their Own Eyes”.

    1. …as the person in the cell.

    2. Most don’t. If you ask most people about this they’ll still say the people involved probably did something wrong and deserved their stay in jail.

      1. I’m sure that at least one of my acquaintances will find a way to blame libertarianism.

  8. And before you think, “Oh, the Justice Department is only doing this because Barack Obama is in the White House”– Oh, wait, you’re right.

    1. The Justice Department is doing *what* just because Obama is in office? They put out a fucking report.

      Two years of ‘investigation. Two years of *watching* the local PD continue to do this stuff and at the end? A paper with ‘reccommendations’. No arrests, no charges, no obligation for the PD to *follow* those reccommendations.

      Just like every other DoJ ‘investigation’ of law enforcement wrongdoing.

  9. Read the report here. And before thinking to yourself “Oh, those racist Southern towns and their Boss Hogg sheriffs,”

    …walk around the town a bit and look at the people and the cops. It’s a Cajun place, not redneck, very mixed race, both citizens and cops. If someone is named Guillory or Vidrine or Boudreaux, there’s no correlation to their color. Historically, there were even black slaveowners and white slaves there.

    1. Louisiana is its own beast.

      Maybe the Napoleonic Code is to blame.

      1. That’s very much what I was thinking. It’s in the south but not in the South.

      2. Or the police using policy to do whatever they want per policy, of course.

      1. Looks like a skinhead masquerading as law enforcement.

  10. Can this occur without explicit or at least implicit cooperation from the Judges in the area? Aren’t the local attorneys running to the Judges screaming about their clients who are locked up for no reason?

    1. Aren’t the local attorneys running to the Judges screaming about their clients who are locked up for no reason?

      How would the attorneys know if their clients are being held, since the clients cannot make any contact with the outside world?

      I imagine the people who get detained for more than 72 hours are those who are least likely to seek legal recourse after the fact, too. So if you know the guy will go to an attorney, release or charge him at the 72-hour mark. Otherwise, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    2. These are people who don’t even have an attorney yet.

  11. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about”

    1. Just watch yer cornhole man.

      1. +1 Two chicks at one time

  12. Hey KK, off topic but may I have the name and number for your “this is her” colleague???

    I like my chances of convincing her that I’m a VIP in need of SpaceX launch tix.

  13. Oh man I can’t wait for this entire police force to be sacked and criminal charges brought against every single one of them, with lengthy jail terms to teach them a lesson!!!!

    1. Don’t hold your breath,

  14. Does the ACLU not exist in Louisiana? This is their bread and butter to get big civil judgments for habeas corpus violations. Why aren’t they involved?

    1. “They supported faggot fake marriage, so they had to go.”

      /spits out blood clot through gap in front teeth

  15. The only good thing to come out of Ville Platte is the Courir de Mardi Gras.

  16. Maybe this is an example of how and why Canada perhaps ranks higher than the U.S. on the ‘Freedom Index’. This sort of thing is unheard of here – unless Pan and JT can chime in and correct me.

    1. And of course other Canadian commenters I omitted.

  17. Anyone who thinks this is something that only happens in Evangeline Parish is fooling themselves. Go have a look at the records in your own county.

    1. I should also mention that in Louisiana you have a right to council anytime you are talking to cops whether you are charged or suspected of anything or not. Council can be a lawyer, a friend, or a family member. This is routinely ignored.

  18. Louisiana law is based on the Napoleonic Code, since it was originally a French colony. “Round up the usual suspects.” Also, “We don’t need no probable cause.” Also, “Fuck You, That’s Why. Squared.”

  19. Well, let’s just have a lottery in which gangs are allowed, having drawn the winning ticket, to abduct policemen, judges and county attorneys, holding them incommunicado, for up to a week. I think this will solve the problem, don’t you? The winning ticket will allow the lucky gang, in possession of a general warrant, to imprison the unlucky official (winner?) in a basement of their choice for a week-long vacation without pay.

  20. I don’t know why people fret about what’s going on in Louisiana. It has always been corrupt, everyone knows it, so just stop the charade. The folks like it like that. We all know the places. The ones that like to kill each other. The areas totally bankrupt of decency. They are all over the US. For the new year how about the media stop acting surprised. This is bullshit your propagating Reason.

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    http://www.villeplattechamber.com/

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