March 24, 2017

Baton Rouge Protesters File Lawsuit Alleging Baton Rouge Law Enforcement Officials Conspired to Suppress July 2016 Peaceful Protests With Mass Arrests on Phony Charges

Soon after peaceful demonstrations brought national attention to brutal and racially discriminatory policing by Baton Rouge area law enforcement, local government leaders and law enforcement officers conspired to break up the protests by making scores of unwarranted arrests of law-abiding protestors, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed late Thursday night.

On the weekend of July 8–10, 2016, about 200 protesters were arrested during their non-violent protest of the July 5 killing of Alton Sterling, who was shot by a member of the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) after being tasered and pinned to the ground. Many of the protesters were manhandled and pushed to the ground by baton- and rifle-wielding police, deputies and troopers in riot gear.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven Baton Rouge area residents, some of whom suffered physical injury, denial of necessary medical treatment while in jail, and ongoing trauma as a result of their unlawful arrest and brutal treatment by law enforcement officers. Within days of bonding out of jail, their charge – “obstruction of a highway” – was dropped.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the City of Baton Rouge and Parish of East Baton Rouge; the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office; the Louisiana Sheriff’s Association; more than a dozen police officers; and several policymakers, including then-Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden, BRPD Chief Carl Dabadie, Jr., East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid J. Gautreaux, III, and Colonel Michael Edmonson, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police.

The seven unlawfully arrested protestors filing the suit are represented by a group of civil rights lawyers led by the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at New Orleans, a non-profit public interest law firm. Counsel for the plaintiffs include Jim Craig, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s New Orleans office; Eric Foley of MacArthur; and civil rights lawyers Gideon T. Carter of Baton Rouge and Mandisa Moore-O’Neal  Emily Faye Ratner, and Mauricio Sierra of New Orleans.  Interested parties can view statements by some of the protestor-plaintiffs at the following video link.

Excerpts From Video (Statements of Plaintiffs)

Leroy Tennart:  ‘From my point of view, they know they violated my civil rights. Me and my son and everyone who was in there, were in there for nothing. What they did to me, for nothing, they’ve been doing this for the longest. I’m tired of it, and I know a whole lot of other people are tired of it.”

Elcide Harris:  “They had on riot gear, as the night progressed, they got aggressive, they closed down Airline. The only thing we were using was our voice. And our voice was loud.”

Eddie Hughes:  “All we were doing was saying, this is wrong, this man should not have died this way. That’s all we were saying. So I should not have been arrested, my daughter should not have been arrested. . . .  we were all non-violent protesters.”

Thomas Hutcherson: “That wasn’t what the protests were supposed to be about. The violence only happened when the police started. They started the violence.”

Further Information About the Experiences of the Plaintiffs:

Leroy Tennart and Deon Tennart

Leroy Tennart, a heavy machine operator, arrived at the protest at Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard at about 7 p.m. on July 9. Leroy chose to participate in the protest because he and other Black people he knows have been treated poorly by Baton Rouge-area law enforcement officers since his youth, and he believes that lawful and peaceful protest can have a significant impact on the way law enforcement officers treat Black people in the United States.

Deon Tennart, his son, had never participated in a protest but joined his father in demanding equal treatment. They stood on a neutral ground near the roadway where they believed protestors were allowed to stand.

Tackled to the ground by several officers, Leroy Tennart was moved bodily from the sidewalk to the street. Officers pushed Leroy into the street where he was slammed to the ground, tackled, handcuffed and dragged across the highway to the grass. After he was transported to the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison (EBRPP), a nurse found his blood pressure was extremely high, but he was not given the blood pressure medicine he needed despite repeated requests.

Deon Tennart ran across Airline Highway to avoid being shoved into the street by police with riot shields and batons, but multiple officers tackled him while he attempted to remain on the sidewalk. He received scrapes to his knees, head and arms.

The father and son were held unlawfully for nearly 40 hours, and both missed work on July 11.

Eddie Hughes III and Godavari Hughes

Eddie Hughes III, a librarian at Southern University, attended the protest with his daughter Godavari Hughes and his son Blue Hughes. Eddie grew up in Baton Rouge and has witnessed unconstitutional law enforcement violence and intimidation against Black community members from a young age to the present. He believes that civic engagement through First Amendment activity is critical to ending unconstitutional law enforcement violence and intimidation against civilians, particularly Black civilians. Eddie’s daughter Godavari, a high school students, was a 16 years old at the time of the protest. She had recently become interested in political movements for social change.

About 20 minutes after the Hughes family arrived, many of the protesters began to march along the sidewalk and grass next to Airline Highway in the direction of Old Hammond Highway. As the protesters approached Old Hammond Highway, a group of law enforcement officers blocked their path and began marching toward the protesters, eventually crossing the curb and advancing toward the protesters on the grass.

A sheriff’s deputy ordered Godavari Hughes to her knees and bound her hands behind her back with plastic zip-ties. Shortly after Godavari’s arrest and while he was standing on the grass, officers arrested Eddie Hughes and bound his hands behind his back with zip-ties.

The father and daughter were separated. Eddie Hughes was unlawfully detained for 22 hours, and Godavari was unlawfully detained at the East Baton Rouge Juvenile Detention Center for about 36 hours from point of arrest to release.

Elcide Harris

Elcide Harris, 49, moved to Baton Rouge 15 years ago from a small Louisiana town. Elcide was standing with protestors on the neutral ground of Airline Highway in front of BRPD Headquarters. When he heard law enforcement officers order the crowd to disperse, he asked an officer how he should get to his car parked across the street. The officer told him to cross the street. As he stepped into the street, multiple unknown officers converged upon him and seized him. When placed against a van and frisked, one officer grabbed his genitals and squeezed.  At EBRPP, he informed the medical staff of medical conditions requiring medication but did not receive any throughout the duration of his detention at the jail.

Zachary Hill

A 32-year-old landscaper and resident of Baton Rouge, Zachary Hill tried to defuse tensions and act as a mediator between law enforcement officers and protesters. Three officers, without provocation, tackled him to the ground and handcuffed him. As a result of this use of force during his arrest, he suffered a contusion on his foot, bruised knuckles, and a scratch to his head.

During an interview with a nurse at intake processing, Hill explained that he takes medication three times per day to avoid epileptic seizures. He was assured several times that a nurse was “on her way” with the medicine, but he never received any medication before his release on bail late on the afternoon of July 10. Following his release, he went to Our Lady of the Lake, where it was determined that he was suffering from a contusion on his foot.

Thomas Hutcherson

Thomas Hutcherson, 44, is a teacher at a Baton Rouge area elementary school and was born and raised in Baton Rouge.  The report of his arrest states that he was arrested for refusing to vacate the roadway “despite being issued several clear verbal commands ordering [him] to do so.” This account is contradicted by video evidence recorded on Hutcherson’s cell phone and widely available news footage of his arrest.

Although he informed a nurse at EBRPP that his head hit the pavement when he was arrested and that he takes multiple medicines for health conditions and did not receive any of his medicines or attention to his head injury. A day after his release, doctors diagnosed him with a concussion and treated him for back pain.