BATON ROUGE — Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry recently disbanded a special task force that he had set up to fight crime in New Orleans.
The task force, dubbed the Violent Crime Task Force, had made at least 16 arrests and has been the subject of controversies, according to a report published by the Advocate. Some of the controversies have centered around the alleged arrests of individuals for petty drug offenses.
The Bayou Brief published what it claims is a court transcript in which a U.S. district judge allegedly voices concern that Landry may have overstepped his office's "narrowly tailored statutory authority" to conduct criminal investigations. The transcript, however, does not specifically name the special task force or mention any specific investigations. It is not clear why or when Landry disbanded the task force.
Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and director of of the Loyola Law Clinic & the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center, told the Louisiana Record that the AG has limited authority when it comes to criminal investigations.
“In Louisiana, most of the cases handled by the attorney general are civil cases defending the State of Louisiana," Quigley said. "In order to be involved in criminal cases, the attorney general is supposed to be invited in writing by the local district attorney or appointed by a court. Nowhere in the Louisiana Constitution is the attorney general given any local law enforcement powers."
The Orleans Parish sheriff and district attorney had supported the task force, according to the Bayou Brief, but it is unclear if they extended any invitations to the AG. If any of the arrests are deemed unlawful, Quigley said the state could be exposed to civil suits.
"If a person is wrongfully arrested by someone who does not have legal authority to do so, there can be a civil claim brought for damages for false arrest and false imprisonment," Quigley said.
The Advocate reported that most of the task force's arrests were allegedly for drug offenses, which law enforcement officials in many jurisdictions across the country are currently de-emphasizing, according to Quigley.
"Legitimate questions can be raised about an effort that was supposed to be about violent crime ending up focused on nonviolent and petty drug arrests," Quigley said. "Police around the country are de-emphasizing petty drug arrests, especially for marijuana precisely because they are not violent crimes, and though all populations use marijuana at similar rates, the actual arrests are always disproportionately of people of color."