NEW ORLEANS — A wrongful arrest lawsuit filed by a visiting professor and his teenage son has prompted calls for a database detailing the race of those arrested by police across Louisiana.
The template could be one used in Missouri for more than 15 years, an attorney and former police officer said.
The numbers and race of those stopped by police are publicly available online, said Peter Russell, who served as a police officer in Missouri, but is now a criminal attorney based in Gretna.
Russell commented on the subject after the filing of a lawsuit by Indiana’s Ball State University Professor Olon Dotson and his son, Lyle, against six identified Louisiana State Troopers.
The younger Dotson alleges he was physically assaulted, detained and ultimately arrested without lawful authority during a visit to New Orleans in October 2015. The elder Dotson was leading a party on an architectural tour of the city.
“Just to be clear, the vast majority of police show no outward signs of racism, and they are very professional,” Russell told the Louisiana Record.
But Russell believes a database compiled from reports filed by officers at city, municipal and state levels would be helpful in identifying whether racial profiling is prevalent. In Missouri, after every stop, officers must check 10 boxes, including one identifying the race of the individuals.
“It does not take time much time,” said Russell. “Ten to 15 years later it is just a matter of doing business, and the state is also eligible for more federal grants.”
State troopers are deployed in New Orleans, particularly the French Quarters, are on a regular basis. One of the arguments against the increased deployment is that they, unlike New Orleans police officers, are not subject to a consent decree monitoring their behavior.
But Russell believes the consent decree in place is not enough, that officers must report contacts because until then, the extent of the problem is unknown. Furthermore, the results should be made public, he said.
In Missouri, concerns over possible racial profiling prompted the passage of the state law in 2000. Racial profiling has been defined as the inappropriate use of race by law enforcement when making a decision to stop, search or arrest a motorist.
Missouri’s state law requires that all peace officers in the state report specific information including a driver’s race for each vehicle stop made in the state.
Dotson and his son Lyle filed the suit against the state troopers last month, accusing them of violating the high school student’s constitutional rights by approaching and arresting him for “simply standing in the street.”
The teenage Dotson, 18, alleges he was physically assaulted, detained and ultimately arrested without lawful authority. He claims he was targeted for being African American, the complaint alleges, which was 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 reads, later listing a number of previous high profile cases.
Louisiana State Police has not yet filed a response to the complaint.