by David M. Reutter
The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) determined that two Louisiana police agencies utilized unconstitutional “investigative holds.” The practice was used by the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (“EPSO”) and the Ville Platte Police Department (“VPPD”) to arrest and hold people in jail without obtaining a warrant and without probable cause to believe the individuals had committed a crime—in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Both agencies used investigative holds as a regular part of their criminal investigations and induced “people to provide information to offices under threat of continued wrongful incarceration,” the DOJ stated in its report, Investigation of the Ville Platte Police and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office. In the report, the DOJ expressed “concerns that these unconstitutional holds have led to coerced confessions and improper criminal convictions.”
Potential witnesses were also subjected to the unconstitutional practice, not just suspects. In 2014, the VPPD detained a woman and her family after a grocery shopping trip that included an armed robbery they may have witnessed. A VPPD officer stopped her and asked about the crime, but the woman said she had no information about it. When she got home, another VPPD police officer forced her, her boyfriend, and a 16-year-old to go to the police station.
The woman was placed in a holding cell and then into the jail’s general population. Nine hours later, she was subjected to questioning by police and a prosecutor about the crime. The juvenile was released to a family member after seven hours, but the boyfriend was not released until the next day. “None of those individuals were suspected of having any connection to the robbery or shooting, yet detectives incarcerated them for significant periods of time before showing them a line up and asking questions about what they may have witnessed,” the DOJ wrote in its report.
Persons subjected to an investigative hold are placed in a holding cell, or “bullpen,” with only a hard metal bench. There is no mattress, running water, shower, or toilet in the cell. EPSO deputies call it “putting them on ice.” Both agencies often subjected people to investigative holds for 72 hours or more. During that time, the “detained person is not permitted to make phone calls to let family or employers know where they are, and have access to bathrooms and showers only when taken into the jail’s general population area,” the DOJ found.
Investigative holds were regularly used when detectives lacked sufficient evidence to make an arrest but they had a “hunch,” “gut instinct,” or “a pretty good feeling a certain person was connected to a crime.” One detective admitted using it experimentally to see if a crime wave subsides while a person was in jail. If the crimes stopped during the hold, the person was investigated further. Conversely, if it continued, the person was released.
“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,” the DOJ noted in the report.
“We never intended to violate anyone’s constitutional rights,” said VPPD Chief Neal Lartigue. Nevertheless, people’s constitutional rights were being flagrantly violated through the use of investigative holds. Consequently, both the EPSO and the VPPD have agreed to end the practice and retrain their officers.
Sources: U.S. Department of Justice. (2016). Investigation of the Ville Platte Police and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office, www.theadvocate.com
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