GRETNA – A class action lawsuit has been filed against numerous public entities and elected officials for preventing pedestrians from crossing a local bridge to safety during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Lead plaintiff Brian Abney filed suit against the City of Gretna, Arthur Lawson Jr., Newell D. Normand, Michael A. Helmstetter Sr., the State of Louisiana and the Department of Transportation and Development in the 24th Judicial District Court on Nov. 15.
The class alleges that after Hurricane Katrina hit the New Orleans area on Aug. 29, 2005 and caused massive flooding they braved life-threatening conditions to flee the impacted areas by fleeing across the Crescent Connection Bridge connecting New Orleans to the West Bank of Jefferson Parish. The plaintiffs claim that the defendants conspired together to disallow them access to the bridge by foot from Aug. 30 through Sept. 2, leaving them in life-threatening conditions in New Orleans. The class asserts they were unarmed when they suffered verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, use of excessive force, use of lethal force, assault and battery as they attempted to cross the bridge.
The plaintiffs allege the acts undertaken by the defendants were unlawful, illegal, improper and unrelated to the scope of work to which police officers and other officials are pledged to uphold.
The class claims the defendants impeded and hindered due course of justice, denied equal protection of laws and refused and neglected to prevent deprivations and denials of petitioners.
The defendants are accused of violating the plaintiffs’ liberty, violating right of equal protection, violating plaintiffs’ rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, use of excessive force, constitutional violations, violation of right to travel freely, committing unlawful acts, failing to properly and adequately train and supervise police, failing to develop proper emergency disaster plans, failing to have provisions to provide to evacuees, failing to acknowledge the reality that evacuees had no other source of escape and failing to implement disaster plans that could have avoided closure of the bridge to pedestrian traffic.
Damages in the amount of $5 million, or not more than $75,000 per class member, are sought for physical pain and suffering, mental anguish, medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life, inconvenience, humiliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The class is represented by D. Adele Owen of Baton Rouge-based Robert H. Schmolke A Professional Law Corporation.
The case has been assigned to Division K Judge Ellen Shirer Kovach.
Case no. 732-958.