Two law enforcement agencies in the heart of Louisiana would detain people without probable cause for up to days at a time while detectives looked at criminal cases, according to federal authorities.
Such “investigative holds” violated the Fourth Amendment – and the Ville Platte Police and Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s departments have agreed to stop their use, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The “investigative holds” included strip searches, three days in holding cells without beds or toilets, and no communication with family members – all without charges being filed, the feds said.
The two departments used the practice about 900 times between 2012 and 2014.
“The violations we found in Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish demonstrate a disturbing pattern of officers overstepping legal boundaries by placing residents in holding cells for days at a time without probable cause,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.
The parish and its seat are about 80 miles west of Baton Rouge, the state capital, and are fairly rural and relatively small in population. Approximately 33,000 people live in the 660 square miles of Evangeline Parish, and about a third are African-Americans. Ville Platte, the largest city, has only 7,300 people – but it is about two-thirds black.
The parish sheriff’s office has 65 full-time employees, and the city’s police has 18 full-time officers.
The investigation of the two agencies was announced in April 2015.
The “investigative holds” were used as a results of a “hunch” or “gut instinct” that the person being held was involved in criminal behavior, according to the findings released Monday. The officers also said they found investigations easier to conduct if the person of interest was unable to communicate with other people outside the jail. If a crime wave subsides while a person of interest is in custody, it assists the investigation, they added.
But witnesses to crime ended up behind bars for indeterminate amounts of time. A woman, her boyfriend, and a 16-year-old child who may have witnessed a robbery while grocery shopping were held in a general-population jail cell. The woman was forced to strip and be searched – and though she was menstruating and forced to remove her tampon, she was not provided with any hygiene products. In response to the woman’s complain, the police chief said “the detention was pursuant to department policy.”
By the conclusion of the DOJ investigation, both the sheriff’s office and the police department agreed to stop using “investigative holds.”
“We look forward to working with both agencies and the local municipalities to ensure that officers can effectively protect their communities and safeguard the liberties of the residents they serve,” added Gupta, the DOJ lawyer.
The Justice Department under the Obama Administration has conducted more investigations into American law enforcement. The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducted some 25 federal probes since 2008. Those resulted in 19 agreements with different agencies, including 14 consent decrees and one post-judgment order, according to the DOJ.
During the eight years under President George W. Bush, the Special Litigation Section brought far fewer cases. Twelve complaints of discriminatory or excessive force were brought to the federal officials in Bush’s first term, from 2001 to 2005. Two agreements were reached, neither of which was a consent decree. No consent decrees were issued in the second term, from 2005 to 2009, according to The Marshall Project.
Many in law enforcement circles cheered the victory of President-elect Donald Trump last month, since he campaigned partly on a platform of promises to strengthen law enforcement initiatives if he won.