Allegations against police await court scrutiny
By jason brown
October 11, 2012
A hearing to determine the fate of a contentious federal lawsuit filed by current and former Lafayette Police officers against the city has been delayed until Oct. 16.
A determination on the merits of the case should be settled and settled soon. If the plaintiffs’ numerous allegations of police corruption, disparate discipline policies and altered crime statistics, among other claims, holds weight, then the case should move forward. If they are baseless, water-cooler rumors, as the defendants allege, then the suit should be thrown out.
Prolonging this will only harm the city, its officers and the public’s confidence in both.
The allegations first surfaced in May, when the officers filed for a temporary restraining order in 15th Judicial District Court seeking to stop the city from moving forward on an internal affairs investigation into a leaked confidential document.
Their claim was dismissed, prompting the plaintiffs to file a federal lawsuit seeking damages. They have also lodged several related complaints with the Lafayette Fire and Police Civil Service Board.
The city-parish has filed a motion seeking to dismiss the case. A hearing on that motion was scheduled Sept. 25, but has now been postponed until Oct. 16.
On Sept. 25, the plaintiffs also filed an amended complaint in federal court, one that adds six new plaintiffs and seven new defendants to the suit, bringing the total to 15 plaintiffs and 12 defendants.
The suit names Lafayette Consolidated Government, City-Parish President Joey Durel, Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley, Lafayette Police Chief Jim Craft and numerous other police and city officials.
The revised complaint added some new allegations and removed some of the more sensational claims, including one that accused Craft of “beating down” a one-legged homeless man while the man was handcuffed.
The defendants have opposed the amended complaint, alleging the plaintiffs did not remove the contested issues but rather “re-alleged” portions of the complaint while adding in “new purported facts which are largely consistent with the tone of the original complaint as inter-office gossip amongst disgruntled employees, regarding their unhappiness with the discretionary decisions of their superiors.”
While it’s uncertain how U.S. District Magistrate Judge Patrick Hanna will rule, he did, during a Sept. 17 hearing, openly criticize the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Stephen Spring and Chris Alexander, for creating a website, Real Cops V. Craft, that was “styled in a manner comparable to a movie trailer.”
The website had contained secretly recorded conversations between some of the plaintiffs and higher-ups within the department. Those conversations formed the basis for some of the allegations within the lawsuit.
Several plaintiffs testified at the hearing that the website was created as a means of informing the public about the inner workings of the department.
In a memorandum ruling, Hanna wrote that the extra-judicial comments made in the media and on the website, “if allowed to continue unfettered, will undermine a fair trial and taint the jury venire.”
The magistrate judge ordered that the website be taken down.
He did tell the plaintiffs they could create a new website as long as it does not demean or criticize the other party.
Spring said he will talk to his clients about whether they want to create a new site that fits within those parameters.
Jason Brown covers law enforcement and courts for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. He can be reached at email@example.com.