Saturday, July 20, 2024

Louisiana House votes to make it harder to sue police officers

by BPT Staff
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By Claire Sullivan | LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE—It may soon be harder to sue police officers in Louisiana, with the House advancing a bill 73-31 Thursday that would shield police officers from lawsuits under certain circumstances.

Rep. Tony Bacala, R-Prairieville, a retired chief deputy from the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office in southeast Louisiana, said his proposal “shields officers and departments from frivolous, B.S. civil action.” Democrats who opposed the bill, however, said it was a dangerous expansion that would protect bad actors.

The bill would make it so that if someone was convicted of a crime, that person could not bring civil action against an officer related to that arrest, unless the conviction is voided through the legal system. The proposal says lawsuits against officers are allowed if they have committed behavior that is “criminal, fraudulent, or intentional misconduct.”

“This puts so many people in danger,” said Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, “and it gives people who are of ill will with a badge and a gun — not all officers, but those who are of ill will with a badge and a gun — it gives them so much freedom and flexibility to do harm to the citizens of Louisiana.”

Jordan said the bill was perhaps the worst of the special crime session, which will last no later than March 6. He told his colleagues he was offended by their chatting during the debate, because this bill would affect many people, especially Black residents like him.

Jordan served as vice chairman of the special committee that investigated the death of Black motorist Ronald Greene, who was brutally beaten by police officers in 2019. Bacala also served on that committee and agreed there was “clearly” misconduct, but the two men differed over how this bill would have affected that case.

Bacala felt civil action could have proceeded if this bill had been law. Jordan, however, said the officers would have found something to charge Greene with had he lived. And if he had survived that beating and been convicted of a crime, Jordan said, “he would have no claim under this statute.”

Rep. Wilford Dan Carter, D-Lake Charles, pointed out that judges can already dismiss baseless lawsuits. He also noted that officers do not foot the bill of lawsuits or judgments. Citizens pay the taxes that fund the public entities and, in extension, the insurance that covers the lawsuits, he said.

“So do you not think it’s unfair to our citizens to limit who they can sue for their injuries?” Carter asked Bacala. “That’s what this bill ultimately does.”

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, raised the issue of officers causing accidents on the road, which may not fall neatly under the categories where it would still be permissible for citizens to bring claims. It is not illegal to turn right on red, for instance, but an officer could cause a crash if not exercising proper discretion.

Bacala said, under his interpretation, those scenarios could still be considered as a legitimate reason for a lawsuit against an officer by the court.

“But again, it could be interpreted other ways,” Carter said, getting at what he felt was a lack of clarity concerning the issue.

The proposal, House Bill 2, needs approval by the Senate to head to the governor’s desk.

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