Thursday, August 31, 2017


The Washington Post's Fredrick Kunkle reports:
Imagine being run over by a car and then being charged with a crime for being the victim.

Earlier this month, three African-American young men were walking along a street at night in the small Louisiana town of La Ville Platte (pop. 7,270) when a Chevrolet pickup truck hit them, inflicting minor injuries. The driver of the truck — who said he was blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle — wasn’t charged, police said. But the three pedestrians were.

Police charged them with unlawfully obstructing traffic and failure to have reflective gear. That’s a misdemeanor that could put a person in a highly visible orange jumpsuit for up to a year.
According to KATC, police said the three teenagers were "obstructing a public passage" as well as not wearing reflective clothing; they say they were on the side of the road (the road has no sidewalks). One of the teenagers told KLFY that officers followed them to the hospital to charge them.

Another Ville Platte resident who was charged with not wearing reflective gear in 2015 had to shell out $409.
“The cost of this is $200 for the fine and $209 for court costs!” said Rufus Searile who lives in Ville Platte. He says the city places a burden on residents, forcing them to buy reflective gear; instead, he says city officials aren’t doing their jobs. “It should be there responsibility to put sidewalks, to put more lighting.”
In 2015, Frontline noted that Ville Platte was under investigation by the Justice Department:
In its announcement, the DOJ said it was looking into allegations that law enforcement in Ville Platte improperly keep people in jail under “investigative holds” — detained without charges while officials investigate a crime.

But civil-rights activists in Louisiana say that improper detentions are only part of a broader problem in Ville Platte, a city in which they say residents are cited for frivolous violations, excessively fined and put in jail when they cannot pay.

It’s a system that on its face appears similar to some of what Justice Department officials found in Ferguson, Mo., where the police department, at the behest of the city, regularly ticketed mostly African-American residents for violations like “manner of walking in roadway,” and then funneled that money into the city coffers. Those who couldn’t pay were sent to jail.
For eight months in 2011, Ville Platte had a 10:00 P.M. curfew, with a $200 fine for violators. It was illegal to be out after 10:00 unless you had a car. The law, needless to say, disproportionately burdened poor residents. A local NAACP leader named Arthur Sampson sued, under the sponsorship of the ACLU, and by 2013 an agreement was reached to do away with the curfew.

But Ville Platte continued to keep "appropriate dress" laws on the books:
One is a ban on sagging pants. Specifically, the city’s municipal code requires that pants be “size appropriate and secured at the waist to prevent the pants from falling more than three inches below the hips (crest of the ilium) causing exposure of the person or the person’s undergarments.”

The city also requires residents to wear “something reflective as an outer garment such as an armband, or parka” when walking after dark.”The reflective material is to be visible from all directions,” a town ordinance reads. “This will enable drivers to see the walking resident more clearly.”

The police began enforcing that ordinance in January 2011, at the same time as the curfew, according to city council meeting minutes.

The penalty for violating either rule is a fine with a maximum penalty of $200 — and 30 days in jail for those who can’t pay it....

Residents who can’t pay the fee are put on probation, where they must pay a fine of $35 each month until they pay off the full ticket fee.

Some people just give up trying to cover the mounting costs and ask for jail time, Sampson said. “It’s a racket,” he said. “Something needs to be done about the injustice that’s been going on here.”
Less than a month before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Justice Department ended its investigation of Ville Platte. The department's announcement read in part:
The Justice Department announced today that it found reasonable cause to believe that the Ville Platte, Louisiana, Police Department (VPPD) and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office (EPSO) engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

The department found that VPPD and EPSO used a procedure the agencies called an “investigative hold” to detain individuals without probable cause during criminal investigations. As a result of this pattern or practice, people in Louisiana’s Evangeline Parish have been arrested and placed in holding cells without probable cause. Often, individuals were in holding cells for several days at a time, where they were unable to contact family, friends or employers and had limited access to food and personal items....

VPPD and EPSO leadership acknowledged that the investigative holds are unconstitutional and have taken laudable steps to begin eliminating their use.
However, the "appropriate dress" laws are still on the books. It's up to the press and the public to shame Ville Platte now. The Justice Department sure as hell won't do it.

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