Clinton lawyers, ACLU to meet with judge
CLINTON — While lawyers for the town and ACLU meet with a federal judge Monday in Baton Rouge to discuss the East Feliciana Parish town’s curfew ordinance, many residents are wondering: What’s all the fuss about?
Clinton’s mayor and Board of Aldermen adopted 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfews twice this year, with the latest set to expire Aug. 14 unless extended.
At Tack’s Barber Shop on St. Helena Street in Clinton, barber Ronnie Mack and a customer, Harrell Cambre, discussed the pros and cons of the curfew.
Mack said that from the talk he hears, most people “have no problem with it.”
“There have been some good results,” he said, adding that “There’s always someone to challenge it.”
Cambre said he didn’t particularly care for someone “telling you when you have to go to bed,” but he said people have to look at the results.
“I suppose I would be for it,” Cambre said.
Coming out of the Main Street Market and Deli a short distance from the barbershop, 23-year-old Tycara Bennett said she had no problem with a curfew.
“Because, after 11 o’clock, why should you, if you’re not working, be walking the streets?” Bennett said.
Main Street Market and Deli co-owner Muqadar “Mike” Sadaqat had a different take, saying he hated the curfew because it has hurt business at the town’s only all-night convenience store.
Many of his late-night customers work at the state prison and hospitals in East Feliciana Parish, and when they come through town at night, many of them want to eat something from the deli.
“It’s hurting business a lot,” he said.
The Louisiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of Clinton resident and student Thomas Mead.
Town attorney Charles Griffin II, of St. Francisville, said Mead’s lawsuit is “premature,” and he questions whether the town actually has a valid ordinance declaring a curfew.
Griffin said he has advised the town to seek legal help through the Louisiana Municipal Association to defend the lawsuit, but he said the action taken by the Board of Aldermen and the town’s police only amount to aggressive enforcement of the town’s law against loitering.
He pointed out that no one has been arrested for violating a curfew.
Clinton native Mildred P. Worrell used a decidedly salty term to describe the fuss, saying the town has the right to decide how best to protect its residents.
“Why is it a problem for the town to pass an ordinance saying you can’t be on the streets after 11 p.m.?” Worrell said Thursday. “I just watched a guy stealing a lawn mower in broad daylight.”
Over at the police station, where an officer was questioning the suspected lawn mower thief, Police Chief Fred Dunn said that if Clinton doesn’t have a curfew ordinance, Griffin didn’t say anything when he presented the idea and the board approved it.
Dunn pointed to a map of Clinton dotted with pins of several colors, each designating a particular type of crime that occurred before the curfew went into effect. Some areas of the town have many pins sticking in them; others have none.
The police chief said Mead lives on Old South Drive, an area devoid of pins.
The biggest problem some residents of the street have faced recently is damage caused by feral hogs, which come out of the woods at night, root up flower beds and yards, and dig wallowing holes.
“Basically, people just coming through town at night, we’re not bothering them,” Dunn said.
But when an officer sees a strange car idling in a parking lot or someone’s driveway, he’s going to ask questions, the police chief said.
“It’s your demeanor that’s going to get our attention,” he said.
“When five people are hanging out in a yard, using profanity, and a man living nearby is trying to sleep? And, if his wife has been working late (at a state hospital) and comes home at 2 o’clock in the morning, does he want five people hanging around outside his house with their pants down to the knees and making comments to her?” Dunn asked.
At another convenience store on the other side of town, which closes at midnight, Craig Bertrece, the former Clinton police officer and retired state hospital security officer, said the curfew is unnecessary.
“The town’s not as bad as it used to be, and they have twice the number of officers that they used to,” he said.
Bertrece said the department should concentrate on community policing and not “inconvenience everybody with a curfew.”
Although Mack and Cambre said they did not care for the ACLU because “it has too many liberals,” the state chapter has had success in challenging municipal curfews.
The chapter extracted nearly $17,000 in attorney fees and costs from the city of Ville Platte earlier this year.
The city signed a federal consent decree after an ACLU-sponsored lawsuit challenged a curfew that prohibited walking outside after 10 p.m. Ville Platte officials agreed not to enact future curfews without a compelling need.
“It is not the business of the town leaders to decide what is bedtime for the rest of the community,” ACLU chapter Executive Director Marjorie Esman said in a news release announcing the lawsuit against Clinton.