Justice Department Informs City of Lexington and Lexington Police Department That Automatically Jailing People for Unpaid Fines Violates Constitution
The Justice Department announced today that it found reasonable cause to believe that the Ville Platte, Louisiana, Police Department (VPPD) and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
The department found that VPPD and EPSO used a procedure the agencies called an “investigative hold” to detain individuals without probable cause during criminal investigations. As a result of this pattern or practice, people in Louisiana’s Evangeline Parish have been arrested and placed in holding cells without probable cause. Often, individuals were in holding cells for several days at a time, where they were unable to contact family, friends or employers and had limited access to food and personal items.
“When police officers investigate criminal activity, they must do so responsibly and within the boundaries of the law,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “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. 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.”
The Justice Department’s findings result from a comprehensive review of EPSO and VPPD’s relevant policies, procedures, training and accountability systems. The review included meetings with the leadership of both agencies and the city of Ville Platte, interviews with officers throughout the chain of command at both agencies and conversations with other members of the local community. Throughout the department’s investigation, VPPD, EPSO and the city of Ville Platte provided their full cooperation and were receptive to the department’s initial feedback. VPPD and EPSO leadership acknowledged that the investigative holds are unconstitutional and have taken laudable steps to begin eliminating their use. The department will continue to work closely with these law enforcement agencies and municipalities to remedy the issues identified in the report.
The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section conducted the investigation. Since the start of the administration, the Special Litigation Section has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies. The department is enforcing 19 agreements with law enforcement agencies, including 14 consent decrees and one post-judgment order.
For additional information, please visit the Civil Rights Division’s website at www.justice.gov/crt.