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Eunice Police officer, ACLU file whistle-blower lawsuit

Eunice Police
Posted at 12:43 PM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 18:21:37-04

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed suit on behalf of a Eunice Police Officer, accusing his agency of excessive force, neglect of inmates, mishandling of evidence and misuse of funds.

The suit was filed last week in federal court in Lafayette, by the ACLU, Sidley Austin LLP, and Lt. Michael Dunn.

It names the City of Eunice, the Chief of Police, two other employees and a "John Doe."

We spoke with Chief Randy Fontenot about the suit this morning. He said he just found out about it, and haven't been able to review the whole suit so he couldn't comment on the suit itself.

"But the little bit that I have seen so far, there are allegations and that reports being made to other agencies against the EPD about those allegations. If that's the case, why haven't those agencies taken any action? Those allegations are just not true," Fontenot said. "I think I run my department like any chief would. We do our best to enforce the law. People who know me best know that I support the Constitution. I tell my officers, whatever you do, don't violate anyone's constitutional rights. Handle it the way it's supposed to be handled. I'm a big supporter of the constitution. Do it the right way, make it stick."

This is not the only suit Dunn has pending against Eunice and Chief Randy Fontenot. In August of 2020, he filed suit in federal court, alleging that he was investigated and disciplined after he made a Facebook post complaining about noise, reckless driving and gunfire at the Eunice Knights of Columbus Hall, which he lives next door to. Fontenot said Dunn's post was "unbecoming of an officer" and that it affected the department's ability to investigate a case. Dunn alleges in that suit that Fontenot violated his freedom of speech, and asks the court to order Eunice to pay him damages.

The most recent activity in that case was last week, when the court ordered Dunn to answer the city's interrogatories and other discovery. A trial date in October has been set. We asked the ACLU for a comment on Dunn's other suit, but haven't heard back.

If you'd like to read the lawsuits for yourself, scroll down. The most recent lawsuit is below, followed by the August 2020 lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed last week claims that Lt. Dunn notified state, local, and federal officials about the misconduct he witnessed, informing authorities that Eunice Chief of Police Randy Fontenot selectively enforces the law—protecting friends, family members, and political allies from criminal charges, and turning a blind eye to favored officers’ misconduct. It also alleges that Fontenot weaponizes the disciplinary process against employees of the department who are not on his “good side” or refuse to do his bidding.

“As we’ve seen in so many incidents of police violence nationally and locally, law enforcement officers exploit the public’s trust by using their power to protect dangerous officers rather than to protect the public,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “Indeed, the Eunice Police Department’s deleterious practices under Chief Fontenot are akin to the types of unconstitutional and dangerous policing that should be subject to intense scrutiny at the state and national level, yet they remain hidden and shrouded in secrecy. What is clear is that a culture of corruption persists wherein reports of police misconduct are suppressed and employees who report illegal activity are punished. This is anathema constitutional policing. We demand a thorough investigation of the corruption in this department—our elected officials have a constitutional and ethical responsibility to investigate police misconduct and to hold those individuals accountable who’ve violated the public’s trust.”

According to the suit, after nearly a decade at the Eunice Police Department, Lt. Dunn felt that the system he believed in was breaking down and moved forward with alerting authorities to the department’s misconduct. When Chief Fontenot learned that Dunn wouldn’t remain silent, he and other officers retaliated against him, the suit claims. Among other punishments, the suit claims that Fontenot reduced Dunn’s hours and compensation while spreading lies about Dunn within the department and community, including enlisting an individual facing criminal charges to falsely claim that Lt. Dunn bribed him. The suit alleges that Dunn has been threatened with bodily harm and targeted with baseless and pretextual disciplinary action in an effort to force his resignation.

“This is the twelfth case we’ve filed as part of our Justice Lab campaign, and every case has one thing in common: a person brave enough to come forward and call out police abuse and misconduct when they see it or experience it firsthand,” said ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed. “Transparency is vital to American democracy, and we’re grateful to Lt. Dunn for bringing these hidden truths to light. Without him, the people of Eunice—and our entire state for that matter—would be unaware of the corruption at the core of this department and the unconstitutional and illegal police practices that have gone undisciplined and uncorrected for far too long.”

“There is, inherent in these unlawful retaliatory actions, a reckless disregard for the constitutional rights of Lt. Dunn and other employees who dare speak out about matters of public concern. And it is time to end that now.”

Dunn is seeking redress for violations of his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern, Louisiana’s Whistleblower Statute, and the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. He also seeks injunctive relief for defamation, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. His lawsuit seeks to correct policy failures of the Eunice Police Department and the City of Eunice, the suit states.

According to a release from the group, the ACLU of Louisiana continues to encourage anyone who has been the victim of police misconduct to contact Justice Lab [aclu-of-louisiana.mycase.com]. Filing a complaint is simple and confidential, the release states.

See the June 2021 lawsuit below:

Lawsuit from August 2020: