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Archive for the ‘Prison’ Category

It took an article in Everybody’s magazine by writer Charles Edward Russell to embarrass the state of Georgia into enacting reforms to the state’s inmate work release program. Following a special legislative session called to address that specific problem, the governor signed into law a compromise bill which, while restructuring the program, still assigned certain inmates to work release programs administered by private contractors for up to one year.

All Russell did was to follow the trail of a single inmate from his conviction for the theft of $300 from his employer, to his sentence of four years’ jail time to his selection for work release under the supervision of a private firm that would be responsible for his housing, his feeding, his rehabilitation, and his work assignment.

The food was of low quality, often inedible. No education programs or practical job training were offered him or the other inmates, medical care was unheard of, and recidivism was off the charts.

His every movement was made under the watchful eye of the armed guards and any prisoner who made a mistake or who did not meet his work quota paid a price.

It was a great arrangement for everyone but the prisoners. True, they broke the law and society says one must be punished for transgressions against it. No one argues that point. But as more and more prisoners were shuttled off on the private concerns, the state had fewer and fewer prisoners to care for, to feed, to educate, or to provide medical car for.

The private concerns, meanwhile were reaping huge profits through what had become a form of legalized slavery and everyone was happy but those upon whose backs the profits were being realized.

And when Russell wrote his story, it was only natural that the Georgia legislature and the governor went just a little ballistic. “Georgia didn’t waste any time finding fault with us for calling attention to the spot on her pretty gown,” said the magazine in an editorial afterwards. “All we did was criticize.”

Typically, however, when the light is focused on widespread and ingrained abuses, it is the abuser who squeals the loudest, professing to have been grievously wronged by what one prominent politico likes to call “fake news.”

But it’s not fake news. Not now and not in 1908 when Russell actually wrote his story for the long-defunct Everybody’s magazine. His story was reprinted in The Muckrakers: Journalism that Changed America, a BOOK comprising a compilation of investigative newspaper stories edited by Judith and William Serrin.

The practice described by Russell more than a century ago, lives on. It has been tweaked, adjusted, and fine-tuned but remains basically the same and today is making a lot of people wealthy. It was called convict leasing then. Today, it’s called by a much more benign name: transitional work program. It is better known as work release.

CONVICT LEASING actually predates the Civil War in Louisiana. It was legalized slavery then and not much better today. Its popularity mushroomed following the Civil War and the loss of slave labor as southern politicians saw it as a natural alternative to the real thing. It was no coincidence that the vast majority of “leased” convicts were African-Americans.

Private concerns profiteered off prisoners and they still do, even if in methods that are a little subtler. And just as it was when Russell wrote his story, the practice is sanctioned, encouraged even, by the political establishment.

And just to make sure the skids continued to be greased, lawmakers from the halls of Congress to state legislatures annually pile on more and more bills calling for stricter and stricter sentences for even non-violent offenders, thus ensuring the beds in those privately-run prisons and sheriff-run parish jails will stay full. This in turn guarantees that the payments from the feds and the state will keep rolling in and those prisoners can be farmed out to private companies.

In reality, it is a system that feeds on itself.

Convict leasing, simply defined, is a method of control and distribution of convict labor practiced mainly in the southern states, including Louisiana. Contractors would pay the state a bargain basement price to take control of a given number of prisoners. Some of these private concerns, desperate for labor, included planters and manufacturers. Some contractors used the convict labor in their businesses while others were nothing more than labor brokers, or middle men, who sublet the prisoners to other concerns.

Unlike other southern states, convict leasing in Louisiana continued almost non-stop from 1844 to 1901.

It wasn’t until 1892 that efforts began in earnest to abolish the practice. Gov. Murphy J. Foster (does that name sound familiar?) supported those opposed to the leasing practice. The Louisiana Constitution of 1898, passed during his administration, abolished both convict leasing and the Louisiana lottery, which had become a notorious source of corruption. The last lease for convict labor expired in 1901 and the state took over operations of what is now the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

In Georgia, the practice continued until it was OUTLAWED by the legislature in 1908, the same year Russell wrote his story for Everybody’s magazine.

Exactly what is to be gained from work release?

Well, of course those who run the programs are quick to point out that prisoners are learning a trade.

That’s strictly a subjective evaluation at best. Swabbing the floors of a chicken processing plant isn’t very appealing as a career choice for most people, even prisoners.

Maya Lau wrote an excellent STORY for The Shreveport Times about one work release inmate in the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Department’s work release program prior to moving to the Baton Rouge Advocate. Lau, now with the Los Angeles Times, reported that the inmate was paid $7.75 an hour, barely more than minimum wage. Of that amount, the sheriff’s office claimed up to 62 percent right off the top. Multiply that by the number of total hours all prisoners in the program work in fiscal year 2011-12, the latest year data were available for Lau’s Jan. 7, 2015, story and you come up with a cool $500,000 added to the Caddo Sheriff’s Department’s general fund.

That was in addition to the $25 per day the sheriff’s office was paid for housing state inmates and $47 per day per prisoner paid by the Federal Bureau of Prisons for federal inmates, most of whom have committed no greater crime than being illegal aliens.

Moreover, there are those commissaries operated by the private prisons that reach deeper into inmates’ pockets. With literally a captive clientele, private prisons were able to charge $4 for a Honey Bun and $5 for a cold drink. That’s according to Baton Rouge Public Radio reporter Sue Lincoln, who did an outstanding series on THE PRICE of JUSTICE earlier this year. It’s no wonder, then, that Correct Commissary, LLC, of Ruston approached the Lincoln Parish Police Jury several months ago about constructing a 50,000-square-foot commissary warehouse on the site of the former Ruston Municipal Airport. The company packages snack boxes that it sells to prison inmates, according to An April 2, 2017 article in the Ruston Daily Leader.

After 11 weeks, the prisoner about whom Lau wrote, took home a grand total of $416, or about $37.82 per week.

And what about businesses who employ work release inmates?

Well, besides the low wages, there is the obvious benefit of not having to pay for medical insurance or contribute to retirement funds—or to pay each such employee two weeks’ vacation pay each year. One could make the case that using this cheap prison labor could be knocking non-inmates out of jobs.

But that’s not the only consideration. For every work release inmate employed, the state gives the employer a whopping $2,400 tax credit. That’s not a tax deduction, but a full-blown tax credit, meaning that amount is lopped right off the top of the company’s tax bill. So, a company like the Foster Farms chicken processing plant in Farmerville in Union Parish, which uses up to 200 inmates from work release, gets an instant reduction of up to $480,000 off its state tax bill.

A 2016 AUDIT by the Legislative Auditor’s Office revealed that there were 8,700 prisoners in work release programs across the state. That computes to nearly $21 million in tax credits—and that’s in addition to the $80 million or so the state pays private and parish prisons for housing inmates.

And while the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 may have abolished plantation slavery, it may have unwittingly opened the door to another form of slavery that while flying below the radar, nevertheless remains legal more than a century-and-a-half later, enriching the modern slaveowner, aka private and parish prisons.

So, it is understandable perhaps that Caddo Parish Sheriff Steve Prator was so FURIOUS at the new Louisiana sentencing and parole laws that go into effect on Nov. 1. The new law will mean the release of about 1400 non-violent offenders. He will, he says, lose some of his best CAR WASHING prisoners.

 

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Yesterday, Sept. 19, was the 17-month anniversary of the rape of that 17-year-old female meth addict in the Union Parish Jail by a man already convicted of aggravated rape who was awaiting sentencing. (See LouisianaVoice’s initial story HERE.)

Seventeen months and still no resolution to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s “investigation.”

Because the Union Parish Detention Center is run by a consortium comprised of the mayors of Union Parish municipalities, the Union Parish Sheriff, the Union Parish Police Jury and the local district attorney, District Attorney John Belton correctly recused his office from the investigation and requested the assistance of Landry’s office.

Apparently, that’s where the “investigation” ended.

Landry, who harbors an apparent obsession with issuing news releases that promote Jeff Landry almost on a daily basis, is never shy in boasting about his intolerance for wrongdoing and how his office will not stand for (fill in the blank for whichever hot button topic a particular days’ news release is about).

A few samples:

  • In the aftermath of the devastating Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has issued a Public Service Announcement to protect consumers from purchasing a flood-damaged vehicle. 
  • Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry is warning the public of online promotions that mislead consumers to believe they can receive money from a settlement reached between the nation’s four largest tobacco companies and attorneys general from 46 states and territories.
  • “It is important for consumers to understand that if an advertisement sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said General Landry. “Louisiana consumers should be on guard that if a promotion is promising free money, it may not be legitimate.”
  • “Our award-winning Medicaid welfare fraud investigators work around the clock to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in this program so critical to our State’s most vulnerable,” said General Landry. “With the Governor’s expansion of Medicaid welfare, we recognize the need for even greater detection and prevention of taxpayer-funded Medicaid welfare fraud.”
  • “I have made it clear since entering office that the Louisiana Department of Justice will not stand for corrupt public officials,” said General Landry. “The people of our State deserve better and should expect more out of those who are appointed or elected to serve.”
  • Attorney General Jeff Landry today announced the arrest of a New Orleans woman for practicing dentistry without a license, providing services to illegal immigrants. “When there are unlicensed people posing as professionals, it violates the public’s trust,” said General Landry. “There are too many hard-working people in our State to let criminals affect their professions.”
  • “My Public Protection Division works tirelessly to ensure companies that deceive Louisiana consumers are held accountable for their actions,” said General Landry. “This resolution does just that and should serve as a reminder for those doing business in our State to follow manufacturing safety standards.”
  • In an effort led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, nine states are urging the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) to evaluate Obama-era consent decrees and ongoing civil rights cases with a goal of working collaboratively to end them.
  • “Our office fights daily to protect our State’s seniors and sick. Criminals preying on Louisiana’s most vulnerable will investigated, apprehended, and prosecuted,” said General Landry. “It is a disgusting travesty for the elderly, especially Holocaust survivors, to be scammed and robbed by those supposedly caring for them. I hope to get justice for our victims very soon.”
  • “My office will not rest in our pursuit of those who rob much needed services from our State’s most vulnerable,” said Attorney General Jeff Landry. “Our award-winning fraud detection and prevention unit remains committed to uncovering, investigating, and arresting those who attempt to defraud the system.”

You gotta give Jeff Landry credit: He certainly can self-promote.

Somehow, though, he can’t seem to complete an investigation of the rape of a 17-year-old girl even though he is in possession of the following relevant information:

  • He knows the date of the assault;
  • He knows the location of the assault;
  • He knows the identity of the rape victim;
  • He knows the identity of the rapist.

So, what more does he need? Why has his office’s “investigation” still not been completed after 17 months?

The answer is simple and it’s a sad indictment of the political culture and the political agenda of not only the state of Louisiana in particular but the entire nation in general.

It’s the same reason words like cooperation, bipartisanship, and compromise are relics of the past in Washington.

Just look around and you can see the answer everywhere, like so much low-hanging fruit:

In the words of one state official: It’s low priority because there’s no political capital to be gained.

Where, after all, are the votes in defending the rights of a 17-year-old girl who is a meth addict and who can’t vote?

She probably is oblivious to Landry’s gubernatorial aspirations.

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The 17-year-old girl who was raped twice in a Union Parish jail cell in April 2016 has filed suit in Third Judicial District Court, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by LouisianaVoice.

The Third JDC comprises the parishes of Lincoln and Union.

Meanwhile, nearly 17 months after the rapes occurred, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office still has not completed its investigation.

The girl, who was thought to be high on meth, was being held in an isolation cell when Demarcus Shavez Peyton, 28, of Homer, who was awaiting sentencing after being convicted of aggravated rape in a separate case, was allowed to leave his cell and assault the girl twice in her cell.

Named as defendants in her lawsuit are the Union Parish Detention Center, the Union Parish Police Jury (which operates the detention center), the Union Parish Detention Center Commission (made up of Union Parish Sheriff Dusty Gates, District Attorney John Belton and Union Parish municipal chiefs of police).

The lawsuit says another prisoner, Darandall Eugene Boyette was also allowed into her cell with the intent to sexually assault her but “departed before committing any criminal act.”

Because the district attorney is a member of the commission that governs the detention center, Belton rightfully recused his office from any investigation and instead, requested the attorney general’s office to conduct the investigation.

And while Attorney General Landry on Tuesday issued one of his regular press releases in which he “applauded President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program,” he still has not wrapped up what should be a routine investigation of a rape that occurred in the limited confines of a jail cell, a case where he knows the identities of the victim, the rapist, and witnesses.

Apparently, Landry is far too busy issuing press releases to worry about the victimization of a 17-year-old girl—or the obvious liability to which the defendants are exposed.

Among the claims asserted by the victim through her Monroe attorney, Jeffrey D. Guerriero, are:

  • Failure to provide a reasonably safe and secure facility for the custody of women, especially minor women;
  • Failure to protect female inmates from male sexual assault;
  • Failure to provide adequate training to employees and personnel;
  • Failure to property monitor, observe and keep proper surveillance of prison inmates;
  • Failure to properly monitor and supervise employees;
  • Failure to provide, implement and enforce proper policy and procedure for the reporting of, handling, investigation and treatment care rendered to female inmates who have been victims of sexual assault while incarcerated;
  • Failure to provide proper services to inmates who have been victims of sexual assault while incarcerated;
  • Failure to properly secure inmate cell doors;
  • Allowing convicted rapist inmates to move within the facility unmonitored and without supervision;
  • Inadequate or negligent supervision of inmates within the facility;
  • Failure to provide adequate staff to supervise and monitor inmates;
  • Failure to provide adequately trained staff and employees to maintain a safe environment for female inmates, particularly minor female inmates.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Landry on Thursday (Sept. 7) issued a press release saying, “All welfare fraud needs to be found and ended.”

But he can’t seem to complete a simple rape investigation after nearly 17 months.

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Jacob Colby Perry has been CRAPPed (Crazed Reaction Against Public Participation), BLAPPed, (Blowhard Letter Against Public Participation) and SLAPPed (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) as reward for his efforts to obtain answers from the Welsh City Council, particularly as those answers pertain to expenditures of the Welsh Police Department which consistently (as in every month) exceeds the department’s budget.

And he’s a member of the town’s board of aldermen, whose job it is to oversee the town’s various budgets, including that of the Police Department.

Welsh, for those who may not know, is a small town situated on I-10 in the middle of Jefferson Davis Parish. Jeff Davis Parish is located between Acadia Parish on the east and Calcasieu Parish on the west and sits immediately north of the easternmost part of Cameron Parish.

The town has 3,200 residents.

And 18 police cars (one for every officer to take home from work). The budget for those patrol cars, which are not all purchased in the same fiscal year, is $169,000.

Other line items in the police department’s budget include:

  • Police Chief—$100,990 (of which amount, $76,120 is for the Chief Marcus Crochet: $55,000 salary, $4,207.50 in Social Security payments, and $16,912.50 for his retirement);
  • Police Patrol—$593,077 ($32,948 per vehicle);
  • Police Training—$8,000;
  • Police Communications—$295,342 ($16,400 per officer);
  • Police Station and Buildings—$52,300.

BUDGET

All that for a town of 3,200.

From June 2016 through February 2017, the monthly expenditures and monthly overages (in parenthesis) for the police department were:

  • June 2016: $105,681.35 ($24,345.77);
  • July 2016: $79,595.23 ($1,840.35);
  • August 2016: $71,348.81 ($10,085.77);
  • September 2016: $132,857.05 ($51,421.47);
  • October 2016: $78,881.21; ($2,554.37);
  • November 2016: $108,732.82 ($24,297.24);
  • December 2016: $77,098.58 ($4,337.00)
  • January 2017: $79,945.66 ($1,489.92);
  • February 2017: $84,139.83 ($2,704.25)

TOTAL: $818,280.54 ($82,360.32).

That’s a nine-month average expenditure of $90,920.06, or an average monthly overage of $9,484.48.

Projected out for the entire fiscal year, the police department’s expenditures would be $1,091,040.72 or a projected fiscal year overage of $113,813.72.

OVERAGES

Did I mention that Welsh is a town of 3,200 living souls?

It’s no wonder then, that Alderman Jacob Colby Perry, a mere stripling of 24, along with a couple of other aldermen have questions about Crochet’s budget, particular when it was learned that funds generated from traffic enforcement on I-10 is deposited in an account named “Welsh Police Department Equipment & Maintenance.”

An attorney general opinion directed to Crochet and dated Dec. 18, 2015, makes it clear that “a police department is not permitted to establish a separate fund for the deposit of money generated from traffic tickets.” Louisiana R.S. 33:422 “requires that the fines collected from tickets issued by a police officer in a Lawrason Act municipality (which Welsh is) be deposited into the municipal treasury and, thus, within the control of the mayor, clerk, and treasurer.”

The balance in that account is more than $178,000. That’s over and above all the line items in the police department’s budget cited earlier. And he never tapped those funds to cover his overages, instead calling on the board of aldermen to cover his expenditures.

“The mayor (Carolyn Louviere), along with her staff and the town clerk, knew months prior that the chief of police was over-budget and would continue to exceed his budget,” Perry said. “They did nothing.”

Instead, she and the board acquiesced to Crochet’s request of a 37.5 percent increase in his base pay (from $40,000 to $55,000) and his total compensation, including salary and benefits, of $76,120.

SALARIES

Perry said that after he and three other aldermen addressed the matter of the police department’s budget in a meeting at which Crochet was not in attendance, “the town clerk and the mayor immediately followed up by informing the chief of police. In the next meeting, he (Crochet) entered with an entourage consisting of at least 10 police officers in uniform, a neighboring municipality’s chief of police and financial adviser, and his wife. We were yelled at and intimidated.

Perry said he felt Crochet’s demeanor at that meeting may have served its purpose in that the board of aldermen amended the police department budget by $253,000, pushing the department’s budget to more than $1.2 million. “The Town of Welsh is in disrepair,” Perry said.

For his trouble, several things have happened with Perry, none of them good:

  • A recall petition was started against him;
  • Postcards were mailed to Welsh residents that depicted Perry and Andrea King, also a member of the Board of Aldermen, as “terrorists” (See story HERE) and that Perry violated campaign finance laws by failing to report income from a strip club in Texas of which he was said to be part owner and which allegedly was under federal investigation for prostitution, money laundering and drug trafficking (See story HERE);
  • He was removed from the Town of Welsh’s FACEBOOK page;
  • He has been named defendant in not one, not two, not three, but four separate SLAPP lawsuits.

Those filing the suits were Mayor Louviere; her daughter, Nancy Cormier; her son, William Johnson, and, of course, Police Chief Crochet. All four SLAPPs were filed by the same attorney, one Ronald C. Richard of Lake Charles. Can you say collusion?

Each of the nuisance suits say essentially the same thing: that Perry besmirched the reputations of her honor the mayor, both of her children, and the bastion of law enforcement and fiscal prudence, Chief Crochet.

The reason I call them nuisance suits is because Perry, as a member of the board of aldermen, is immune from libel and slander suits under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute.

As the crowning touch, the recall petition was initiated while Perry was in Japan on military orders, serving his annual two-week training.

But the plaintiffs, while trying to shut Perry up, have their own dirty laundry.

It has already been shown that the police chief is not the most fiscally responsible person to be handling a million-dollar budget. Eighteen police cars in a town of 3,200? Seriously? More than $76,000 in salary and benefits—not counting the additional $6,000 he receives in state supplemental pay? Consistently busting his department’s budget? Keeping traffic fine income in a separate account when it should go in to the town’s general fund?

And Mayor Louviere, who inexplicably wants to build a new city hall when the town is flat broke, is currently under investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics, according to the Lake Charles American Press AMERICAN PRESS. She also wants to shut down a bar that just happens to be adjacent to a business owned by her son.

And her son, William Joseph Johnson, who Perry says used his mother’s office in an attempt to shut the bar down, has a story all his own.

Johnson, back in 2011, was sentenced in federal court to serve as the guest of the federal prison system for charges related to a $77,000 fraud he perpetrated against a hotel chain in Natchitoches between October 2006 and January 2007. And that wasn’t his first time to run afoul of the law.

At the time of his sentencing for the Louisiana theft, he was still wanted on several felony charges in Spokane County, Washington, after being accused of being hired as financial controller for the Davenport Hotel of Spokane under a stolen identity, giving him access to the hotel’s financial operations and then stealing from the hotel.

The only thing preventing Spokane authorities from extraditing him to Washington, Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor Shane Smith said, was that “we just don’t have the funds to bring him back.” The Spokane Review, quoting court documents, said, “Police believe Johnson is a longtime con artist who has swindled expensive hotels across the country.” (Click HERE for that story.)

“William Joseph Johnson, Jr. remains on federal probation,” Perry said. “He has yet to pay back all of the restitution that he owes.

In his lawsuit against Perry, Johnson says he “has a long-standing positive reputation in his community and parish” and that he (Johnson) suffered “harm to reputation (and) mental anguish.”

So we have Perry, a student at McNeese State University, being BLAPPed (Blowhard Letters Against Public Participation) with the postcard campaign; CRAPPed (Crazed Retaliation Against Public Participation) with Crochet’s appearance with 10 uniformed officers to berate Perry at a board of aldermen meeting and an incident in which Perry said Johnson confronted him in an aggressive manner following a board meeting, and SLAPPed (Strategic Legal Action Against Public Participation) with the four lawsuits.

All this in a town of 3,200.

Former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill had no idea how accurate he was when he said, “All politics is local.”

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Ha·be·as cor·pus

[ˌhābēəs ˈkôrpəs]

NOUN

A writ requiring a person under arrest to be brought before a judge or into court, especially to secure the person’s release unless lawful grounds are shown for their detention.

Habeas corpus is the legal procedure that keeps the government from holding you indefinitely without showing cause. It’s been a pillar of Western law since the signing of the Magna Carta in England in 1215. The Founders of our nation believed habeas corpus was so essential to preserving liberty, justice, and democracy that they enshrined it in the very first article of the United States Constitution.

 

Ex·tor·tion

[ikˈstôrSH(ə)n]

NOUN

The practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.

 

RICO

[ˈrēkō]

ABBREVIATION

Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

 

Trudy White has been a judge in the 19th Judicial District of Louisiana since 2009. The district encompasses East Baton Rouge Parish. Before being elected a state district judge, she served for 10 years as a Baton Rouge city judge.

Cleve Dunn, Jr., served as Chairman of Judge Trudy White’s Campaign Committee, according to a campaign finance report filed on March 19, 2014 (scroll down to the second page of White’s campaign finance report by clicking HERE).

Cleve Dunn, Sr., who was paid $250 by Judge White’s campaign on Nov. 14, 2014, for marketing, is the operator of Rehabilitation Home Incarceration (RHI). RHI (see corporate filing record  HERE) has profited by its association with Judge White and is now a named defendant, along with Dunn and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Sid Gautreaux, III, in a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for Louisiana’s Middle District.

REHAB PETITION

RHI is one of several private companies that offer pretrial supervision services for the court but is the only approved on Judge White’s website, the petition says. Judge White also assigns defendants a company called Street Crimes Alternatives for pretrial supervision, but, the petition says, that company is also run by Dunn.

A check by LouisianaVoice, however, revealed two other vendors for home incarceration on Judge White’s web page: Home Bound Monitoring Pretrial and Probation Services and Criminal Justice Service. There was no indication as to when those two were added to Judge White’s WEB PAGE.

Additionally, Judge White paid Frederick Hall and his wife, Gloria Hall, $250 each for campaign support activities on the same date as her campaign’s payment to Dunn. Hall is a former employee of RHI and, with his wife, now owns a bond company to which RHI routinely refers defendants, the lawsuit says.

Lead plaintiffs in the litigation, filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, are Henry Ayo and Kaiasha White (no relation to Judge White).

Ayo was arrested for attempted theft of an air conditioning unit and Kaiasha White for simple and aggravated battery following an argument. Both appeared before Judge White on August 8, 2016.

“Since Judge White’s re-election … in 2014, she has assigned arrestees to supervision by RHI,” the lawsuit says. “White does so without conducting in open court an individualized determination of, or providing an opportunity for arrestees to be heard on, the need for, or the conditions of, RHI supervision.”

The lawsuit said that Judge White appears to make the RHI assignments before the defendants even appear in her court nor does she inquire of arrestees whether or not they can afford to pay bond or RHI’s initial or monthly fees. White, the petition says, usually sets the duration of RHI’s supervision at 90 days or for an indefinite time, “irrespective of the supervisee’s next court date.”

White does not typically impose specific supervision terms for RHI to enforce nor does she order a curfew, house arrest or payment of the initial or monthly fee as a condition of release from the parish prison. RHI takes it upon itself to set all those conditions in an arbitrary manner, the suit says.

RHI demands an initial fee of $525 and arrestees typically learn of this only when they or family members attempt to post bail or at their first meeting with RHI at the prison. Those who cannot immediately pay the initial RHI fee may wait in jail for days or weeks until they can pay despite their having already posted bail.

Through an agreement with RHI, the lawsuit says, East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff Gautreaux and Parish Prison Warden Dennis Grimes “created and enforce a policy that the prison will not release arrestees from the prison until it receives permission from RHI—permission that comes only after RHI is satisfied with the initial payment made.”

Upon their release, they are required by RHI to sign a contract setting forth RHI’s future fees and conditions of supervision which require the arrestee to pay a monthly fee of $225 to their assigned RHI officer, or “monitor,” during their supervision term. The contract also sets a curfew for supervisees, restricting them from spending the night anywhere other than at their reported residential address.

“RHI monitors and Dunn himself threaten supervisees with re-arrest if they fail to make financial payments or comply with RHI’s costly supervision conditions—without affirmatively inquiring into their ability to pay,” the suit says. “Accordingly, supervisees pay (or attempt to pay) the fee out of fear of re-arrest and bond revocation by scraping together money from friends or family.”

Ayo was told his fees were in part to pay for an ankle monitor even though he was never provided one. When he and his wife were unable to make timely payments, RHI would assess him with late fees.

The federal RICO statute is invoked in the lawsuit because, it says, “Dunn has conducted the affairs of RHI through a pattern of racketeering to achieve the common purpose of unlawfully extorting money from plaintiffs Ayo and White and the proposed class. These racketeering acts are an integral part of RHI’s regular course of business.”

The petition says that Dunn “has committed multiple, related predicate acts of extortion by refusing to authorize the release of plaintiffs and the proposed class from the prison until they paid money towards the RHI initiation fee. Additionally, by unlawfully using the fear of arrest and jail by East Baton Rouge law enforcement or RHI officials, Dunn on numerous occasions extorted from plaintiffs and the proposed class a monthly supervision fee, along with fees for classes or other requirements imposed at the discretion of RHI employees.”

It said Dunn’s use of RHI to extort money from arrestees assigned by Judge White “constitutes a pattern of racketeering activity.”

The lawsuit listed a number of questions for the proposed class:

  • Whether RHI, independent of Judge White, sets terms for an arrestee’s release and the fees for its supervision services;
  • Whether Dunn, RHI, and Gautreaux, in his official capacity, have an agreement that individuals assigned to RHI by Judge White may not be released from the prison until they have paid RHI’s initial fee and RHI notifies the prison of such payment;
  • Whether RHI and Gautreaux, in his official capacity, enforce such agreement against the proposed class without determining whether individuals can afford to pay RHI’s initial fee;
  • Whether Gautreaux has a policy, practice, or custom of detaining arrestees until obtaining RHI’s permission to release them;
  • Whether RHI’s standard contract provides for an initial fee and monthly fees;
  • Whether RHI’s standard contract provides for arrest and jailing for failure to pay its fees;
  • Whether Dunn directs RHI employees to threaten to arrest and jail individuals who do not pay the monthly supervisory fees and other mandated fees to RHI
  • Whether Dunn’s operation of RHI through a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically, extorting money from (arrestees) by unlawfully detaining them in the prison until they pay RHI’s initial fee, then threatening them additional jailing if they fail to pay RHI monthly fees once released, violates the Louisiana and federal RICO acts;
  • Whether Gautreaux and RHI’s practice of detaining individuals because they could not pay RHI’s initial fee violates arrestees’ rights under the 14th Amendment to due process and equal protection;
  • Whether Gautreaux and RHI’s detention of arrestees after they posted bonds constituted an unreasonable seizure in violation of the 14th Amendment, and
  • Whether RHI lacks any legal authority or right to collect fees from arrestees.

 

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