The Justice Department today announced that it reached an agreement with the City of Ville Platte and a separate agreement with the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (Louisiana) to end the pattern or practice by the Ville Platte Police Department (VPPD) and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) of conducting arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. After a thorough investigation, the United States concluded that it had reasonable cause to believe that these agencies had arrested and held people in jail—sometimes without obtaining a warrant and without probable cause to believe that the detained individuals had committed a crime—in violation of the Fourth Amendment. VPPD and EPSO sometimes used these arrests, called “investigative holds,” as a regular part of their criminal investigations, inducing people to provide information to officers under threat of continued wrongful incarceration.
Under the agreement, VPPD and EPSO will develop policies and provide training and adequate supervision to officers to ensure the pattern or practice of unlawful seizures does not continue. The agencies also will increase transparency by collecting and reporting data on its Fourth Amendment activities.
The Department’s investigation into EPSO and VPPD began in April 2015 and concluded in an investigative findings report, released on Dec. 19, 2016. The Department determined through interviews with command staff, detectives, officers, and a cross-section of community members, as well as review of documents including jail logs, arrest records, and more, that the investigative hold practice was routine at EPSO and VPPD. Both agencies acknowledged that they sometimes used holds to investigate criminal activity for as long as anyone at the agency can remember. Because these “investigative holds” were conducted without probable cause, they violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“Police officers across the country are called upon to protect and safeguard members of their communities by investigating criminal activity. Officers are afforded the authority needed to do so, including the power to arrest and detain individuals when there is proper legal justification,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division. “It is imperative that officers use that authority within the boundaries of the law. Both agencies cooperated fully throughout this matter, and we are eager to continue to work together with the Ville Platte Police Department, the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office, and the local municipalities to help ensure that their officers can protect the public and investigate crime without violating the civil rights of members of the public.”
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 prohibits state and local governments from engaging in a pattern or practice of misconduct by law enforcement officers that deprives individuals of federally-protected rights. The Act also allows the Justice Department to remedy such misconduct through civil litigation. The Special Litigation Section of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C. enforces the Act.