ACLU of Louisiana Sues Police Officers for Unconstitutional and Unlawful Excessive Force Against Homeless Black Woman
ACLU files fifth lawsuit as part of Justice Lab initiative, reviewing 40 more claims
NEW ORLEANS – As part of its Justice Lab campaign, the ACLU of Louisiana is suing two East Jefferson Levee District police officers for using unnecessary violent force against a 54-year-old Black woman. On April 6, 2020, officers Robert Tewis and Kirt Arnold approached Ms. Deanna Thomas in a public park and demanded that she leave. Instead of giving Ms. Thomas—who is homeless—an opportunity to collect her belongings, Tewis handcuffed her and knocked her down. Unable to break her fall because she was handcuffed, Ms. Thomas slammed face-first into the ground, spraining both her wrist and shoulder. The fall also caused her glasses to snap in half against her face, lacerating it, and prompted the unintentional release of her bowels.
“We are deeply saddened by the callous and inhumane behavior of these two police officers, who not only harassed Ms. Thomas, but violently attacked her as she was arrested,” said ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed. “Ms. Thomas is one of many victims who suffer from the unjust criminalization of poverty and homelessness, in Louisiana and around the country. And because poverty is inextricably linked to institutional racism, the criminalization of homelessness disproportionately affects Black people. This reality, coupled with systemic racism in policing, far too often leads to police violence against already deeply marginalized homeless Black people, just like Ms. Thomas. At the ACLU, we envision a world where marginalized communities no longer fear law enforcement, and we will not stop fighting until we achieve this in Louisiana and throughout our nation.”
The complaint—which was filed by the ACLU along with attorneys from the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP and Davida Finger of Loyola University New Orleans Law Clinic—accuses the two officers of using excessive force in violation of Ms. Thomas’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, among other claims, including assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It seeks damages for the physical and emotional harm that Ms. Thomas endured, including her broken eyeglasses, lacerations to her face, injury to her wrist and shoulder, and enduring psychological and emotional distress.
Because of the officers’ wrongful conduct, the complaint alleges that both should be held liable for the harm that Ms. Thomas endured.
This is the fifth lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab initiative against racist policing in the state. The ACLU of Louisiana continues to encourage anyone who has been the victim of police misconduct to contact Justice Lab. Filing a complaint is simple and confidential.
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