Cops in one Louisiana parish have, for decades, been jailing people without charges, held for days at a time without access to attorneys or even a telephone, on the thinnest of premises, the Advocate is reporting. The practice has gone on so long that the local sheriff seems doubtful the practice is even illegal — and he’s loathe to discontinue it.
Evangeline Parish sits in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, a rural enclave of about 33,000 people surrounded by forests, swamps, and farms.
It’s also where, throughout the course of an average year, as many as 900 “investigative holds” are known to take place.
An “investigative hold,” as described by Evangeline Parish cops, is when a person is jailed when authorities believe the person may know something about a crime, or may know someone who knows something about a crime. That’s it: no probable cause, no suspicion that the person has committed a crime, nothing.
And once jailed for an investigative hold, a person can be held for days without access to a lawyer or even a telephone call. Families aren’t notified. What’s more, in some cases individuals on “investigative hold” aren’t even allowed to sleep on beds, instead being made to sleep on the concrete floor. Cops call this putting someone “on ice” — and they believe it “encourages cooperation.”
The problem is particularly pronounced in the parish seat of Ville Platte. In a town of about 7,400 people, about 700 “investigative holds” take place per year.
Officers who work in the jail say they’re basically at the mercy of both the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Ville Platte Police Department. Treat an inmate with dignity — by allowing him to make a phone call, for example — and cops will “retaliate.”
“One EPSO jail officer described an incident in which an EPSO detective reprimanded him after the jail officer provided toothpaste and other personal supplies to a person locked in the holding cell.”
The system is illegal and un-Constitutional, according to the Justice Department.
“The willingness of officers in both agencies to arrest and detain individuals who are merely possible witnesses in criminal investigations means that literally anyone in Evangeline Parish or Ville Platte could be arrested and placed ‘on hold’ at any time.”
But it’s been going on so long that no one can remember when it even began. What’s worse, no one in the parish seems prepared to own up to even knowing that the practice is illegal.
Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue seems to have no idea that the 4th Amendment to the Constitution means, in part, that you can’t be thrown into jail without probable cause.
“We never intended to violate anyone’s constitutional rights. This went back way before my administration and any administration that I worked under here in the past 25 years. We were all trained into it.”
Even the parish’ public defender, Alex Chapman Jr., claims he wasn’t aware of the scope of the “investigative holds,” largely because, as public defender, he doesn’t normally have contact with an inmate until they’ve been charged with a crime.
“I don’t know that they realized that citizens who are not even accused of a crime have basic rights and that you can’t infringe on that. A human being becomes a different person when they have total control and no consequences for what they do.”
Lartigue said that he is willing to work with the Justice Department to end the practice of investigative holds.
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