City coughs up $75K for bad NOPD drug arrest

The city this week cut a check for $75,000 to settle a federal complaint by a man who was arrested in 2011 and charged with cocaine possession based on a false police report filed by two New Orleans police officers, one of whom was at the dentist’s office when he claimed to have made the arrest.

Heather Hendrix, an attorney for Alvin Bean, said the city made no formal admission in the settlement about violating Bean’s civil rights.

Joshua Hunt and Samuel Birks claimed they arrested Bean on Jan. 25, 2011, while on foot patrol at Jackson’s Landing apartments in Algiers. They said a rock of crack cocaine fell out Bean’s pocket as they searched him.

Bean spent more than four months in the parish jail before Hendrix proved that the officers had lied in a police report on the arrest, and that Hunt had lied under oath during a pre-trial hearing in the case.

Both men quit the force and later pleaded guilty — Hunt to perjury and malfeasance in office, and Birks to malfeasance. Both received suspended jail sentences. Hunt also was fined $5,000, while Criminal District Judge Darryl Derbigny fined Birks $2,500.

The settlement ends the city’s part in a civil-rights lawsuit that named as defendants Hunt, Birks, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, the city and the Police Department.

According to the suit, filed in December 2011, Birks drove up as Bean left his apartment, handcuffed him and placed him in the back of his patrol car.

Birks allegedly told Bean he was wanted in connection with drug dealing in the area. Birks then got a phone call from Hunt, asking to be picked up at a dentist’s office in the 4000 block of MacArthur Boulevard, also in Algiers, the suit says.

With Bean in the back of their patrol car, the officers returned to the Garden Oaks Drive area to cruise around and ask Bean about criminal activity in the area, the complaint alleged.

Hunt then ran a check on Bean’s criminal history and found he was a parolee with three prior convictions. According to the complaint, Hunt then placed a rock of crack in Bean’s jacket pocket, and the officers drove him to the 4th District station to arrest him.

Hendrix said the city didn’t represent Hunt and Birks in the civil-rights lawsuit and that Bean plans to seek separate judgments against them.

“We’re really excited that the city took ownership, and the Police Department took ownership, of their wrong,” she said. “The fact that they refused to represent Hunt and Birks, that’s something kind of new. They’re separating themselves from the officers.”

The city tried to get the case tossed out, arguing that NOPD policies barred what the officers did, and that Birks and Hunt were acting outside “the course and scope of their employment,” but U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon denied those arguments on Oct. 31.

A spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s office declined to comment on the settlement.

Bean’s alleged parole violation, from a conviction in Colorado, kept him locked up from January to June 2011. If convicted on the cocaine charge, he would have faced at least 20 years behind bars under the state’s habitual offender law.

Bean did not return a phone call for comment on the settlement.