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DOJ: Evangeline Parish law enforcement illegally detained people - KATC.com | Continuous News Coverage | Acadiana-Lafayette

DOJ: Evangeline Parish law enforcement illegally detained people for decades

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Courtesy MGN Online Courtesy MGN Online

Just two days after a federal report uncovered unconstitutional policing in Evangeline Parish, the U.S. Justice Department is now working with both agencies to reform their practices.

But one Ville Platte activist remains critical of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Office and Ville Platte Police Department after an investigation ruled the agencies' practices were illegal.

“No, things haven't changed in Evangeline Parish,” resident Arthur Sampson says, in regard to policing in the parish.

According to the Justice Department, detectives from the Ville Platte police department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's admitted to detaining suspects and potential witnesses without evidence. The agencies admitted officers often based their actions on  “a hunch" or "a feeling."

For Sampson, who helped organize a public meeting with the Justice Department last year, it's not a surprise.

“They arrest you. They arrest whomever they want to arrest. They don't read you your rights and they place you in jail,” Sampson said.

Some of the illegal holds lasted up to a week, with officers and deputies strip-searching detainees upon arrival. Officers withheld detainees from contacting anyone on the outside.

Sampson says the officers and deputies should be held accountable.

“Should have been some charges filed against these individuals,” Sampson said about the officers and deputies. “I think if they filed charges that would have woke things up, like this is serious. They’re not giving people they due process of the law. Go back and charge these officers for violating peoples civil rights.”  

The Justice Department says both agencies have admitted their practices are unconstitutional. If the departments can't reach a compliance agreement, the Justice Department will sue both the police department and Sheriff's Office.

KATC reached out to both Sheriff Eddie Soileau and Chief Neal Lartigue, but both declined to comment. Ville Platte mayor Jennifer Vidrine has not responded to requests for comment.

Original story below: 

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The U.S. Department of Justice today released the results of its investigation of the Evangeline Parish Sheriff's Office and the Ville Platte Police Department. 

The findings are that both agencies have been violating the Constitutional rights of citizens for years by using what they call an "investigative hold" to keep a suspect in jail without charging them, and without allowing them to talk to family, attorneys or friends. 

According to a report posted online today, the DOJ believes it can work with both agencies to craft a document that solves the problems going forward. If that doesn't happen, the DOJ says it will file suit against the agencies over the practice. 

To read the entire report for yourself, scroll down. 

“When police officers investigate criminal activity, they must do so responsibly and within the boundaries of the law,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division.  “The violations we found in Ville Platte and Evangeline Parish demonstrate a disturbing pattern of officers overstepping legal boundaries by placing residents in holding cells for days at a time without probable cause.  We look forward to working with both agencies and the local municipalities to ensure that officers can effectively protect their communities and safeguard the liberties of the residents they serve.”

Officials with both agencies say the practice has been used for as long as anyone can remember, the report indicates. Officials with both agencies also acknowledged, after discussions with the DOJ, that they understand the practice is unconstitutional and have taken steps to stop it, the report states. 

The investigation also found that both agencies had inadequate training and instruction for officers, and that you didn't even have to be a suspect to end up in jail, with very little food and no contact with family, for days at a time. 

"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 report states. 

They conducted interrogations that violated the Constitution as well, the investigation found. In one case, Ville Platte Police actually interrogated a five-year-old without a parent or guardian present - because the child's mother was under an investigative hold. They also wouldn't allow the mother to call a relative to pick up her children, the report found. 

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