Two police misconduct lawsuits settled
Posted on Jan 23, 2010 in Courts, Local Issues, NOPD
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
January 22, 2010, 7:13PM
sportsmans_corner.JPGMichael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune archiveThe Sportsman’s Corner bar was photographed in June 2007.
Attorneys for the city of New Orleans recently settled a pair of high-profile federal lawsuits alleging police misconduct.
One alleged brawl, involving city transit workers and off-duty officers, took place on Mardi Gras night at the Beach Corner bar in Mid-City. The other case centered on an incident in July 2006 inside a Central City bar.
On Friday, the city attorney’s office reached a settlement in federal court with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Steven Elloie, a bar manager who alleged he was beaten, twice shocked with a Taser stun gun and falsely arrested inside the Sportsman’s Corner bar.
According to the suit, Elloie was taking inventory in the stockroom that night when the officers “entered the bar in an aggressive and belligerent manner” and announced they were looking for two young black men wearing blue jeans and white T-shirts. The 16 customers inside the bar told the police that no one fitting that description had come in.
Though they had no search warrant or permission to search the bar, the officers began “forcefully opening and attempting to open doors,” and one officer grabbed Elloie and told him he was going to jail, the suit alleged. Elloie said four or five cops then began hitting and kicking him.
Police booked him with resisting arrest and battery on one of the police officers, but the charges were later dropped. The Elloie family filed Public Integrity Bureau complaints with more than a dozen supporting witnesses. The internal affairs division of the NOPD found that Elloie’s claims were “unsubstantiated.”
Elloie’s attorney, Katie Schwartzmann of the ACLU, declined to release the settlement amount, which is in addition to attorney’s fees.
“The settlement in this case is a great outcome for Steven Elloie, but until we have meaningful internal accountability for officers who break the law, we will continue to have problems with police misconduct in this City,” Schwartzmann said in a released statement. “People must be able to trust the police.”
Police spokesman Bob Young did not immediately return a request for comment Friday. The city attorney, Penya Moses-Fields, did not return a request for comment late Friday afternoon regarding the Elloie case.
Some of the same officers involved in the Elloie incident were later involved in another well-publicized case. That case, closed Friday in federal district court, was brought by a Regional Transit Authority employee who alleged he, and some co-workers, were beaten and falsely arrested in a racially charged bar brawl with off-duty officers in 2008. The dismissal came two weeks after the two sides reached an agreement.
Lamont Williams, the RTA worker, alleged that he and three co-workers, who are all black, were subjected to racial epithets, followed outside and beaten by off-duty, plainclothes officers. He also alleged that a police officer pulled a gun from a co-worker’s car, planted it on Williams, then falsely arrested him for possession of a gun – a charge that was later dropped.
The city settled the case for $25,000, according to Moses-Fields.
“The City of New Orleans decided it was a good business decision to settle the cases because litigating them to completion would have cost more than $25,000,” Moses-Fields wrote in an e-mail message. “The City of New Orleans entered into the settlement with absolutely no admission of liability.”
One of the officers, David Lapene, was dropped from the lawsuit “after it became apparent that the officer had absolutely nothing to do with” the incident, Moses-Field noted.
Police attorney Frank DeSalvo said Friday that the “whole case was a sham” and that the small settlement amount shows the allegations had little merit.
Attorney Stephen Rue, who brought the case, said Williams had difficulty identifying the specific officer who punched him. Ultimately, Williams wanted to settle the case and move on, Rue said.
The NOPD’s own initial investigation concluded that five officers broke police conduct rules and then lied to investigators, with at least one officer coercing a civilian witness to lie.
Police Superintendent Warren Riley fired two officers: Sgt. Warren Keller Jr, who allegedly exchanged harsh words with Williams inside the restroom stall, kicking off the imbroglio; and Lapene, who was dropped from the federal suit, and who allegedly threw a punch that landed on William’s face. Both officers have appealed their terminations to the city’s Civil Service Commission.
The NOPD initial investigation also concluded that another off-duty officer, Jennifer Samuel, committed wrongdoing. She was suspended for 80 days.
A criminal inquiry into the officers’ actions was opened, but charges were never filed. Then-District Attorney Keva Landrum-Johnson’s office responded to the NOPD in writing, saying the matter had been refused for prosecution because an essential witness, RTA worker Kennis Hagan, had drowned in an unrelated incident.
Brendan McCarthy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3301.