NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana State Police's arrangement with the city of New Orleans permitting troopers to patrol the French Quarter is likely to come under scrutiny following the filing of a lawsuit by a university professor and his teenage son.
Olon Dotson, a professor at Indiana’s Ball State University, and his son Lyle have filed suit against six state troopers, accusing them of violating the high school student’s constitutional rights by approaching and arresting him for “simply standing in the street.”
The younger Dotson, 18, alleges he was physically assaulted, detained and ultimately arrested without lawful authority during a visit to the city in October 2015.
He alleges he was targeted for being African-American, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
“The state police engage in a pattern and practice of aggressive, unjustified harassment of African-Americans in the city of New Orleans, including the detention and arrest of African-Americans without probable cause and the use of excessive and unjustified force against them,” the complaint said.
Louisiana State Police has not yet filed a response to the complaint, which was lodged with the federal court earlier this month.
But Major Doug Cain, a state police spokesman, while declining to comment on the allegations, said the state police are "very proud of the work the troopers are doing in the city of New Orleans.”
“We've had some great successes," Cain told the New Orleans Advocate, "but certainly anyone who brings concerns to our attention, we're going to look into them fully."
Elizabeth Cumming, attorney for the Dotsons, said what happened to Lyle Dotson clearly was a constitutional violation based upon his ethnicity.
“Lyle Dotson was standing on the street and the Louisiana State Police came up and violently approached him, restrained him, took photographs and arrested him,” Cummings told the Louisana Record. “These were constitutional violations. What stands out, and is really concerning, is that he was not engaging in any suspicious activity. He was African-American. There was no other factor."
The complaint also details how Lyle Dotson was named publicly in the media as among those arrested in a sweep of street level drug dealers following a six-month operation. Dotson was accused of battery of a police officer.
According to the complaint, the elder Dotson, a professor of architecture, was leading a student field trip studying the architecture of the historic center of New Orleans. He had invited his son to join the trip.
Following a tour, his father returned to his hotel, leaving his students and son to continue exploring the district. Lyle Dotson became separated from the party after being refused entry into the courtyard of Pat O’Brien’s courtyard, which the students wanted to see.
They agreed to meet at an appointed place, but Lyle Dotson got lost, according to the complaint. He phoned his father and while the pair were talking, the police officers approached. His father heard sounds, then the call was dropped.
“He thought his son was being mugged,” attorney Jim Craig with the MacArthur Justice Center, told the Louisiana Record. “He brings his son to the city, and he is talking on the phone. What is he to think?”
Craig, who is helping the family, said the culture of the state police will hopefully be explored in this case. The issue of the state police operating within city limits without being bound by a consent decree signed by the New Orleans Police Department also will be raised, Cumming added.
Historically, state police have been brought in to help supervise major events like Mardi Gras and traffic enforcement campaigns. More recently, the city signed an agreement where state police are deployed in the French Quarter “for the purpose of protecting the safety of residents and visitors to the historic district.”
“Our position is that they should be bound by the consent decree if they are operating in the city of New Orleans,” Cumming said.
“Lyle Dotson and his father are the very people who we want to come to this city. The city depends--for its economic existence--on people just like Olon and Lyle Dotson, and they should feel welcome,” Craig added.