NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans man held in two different state inmate facilities almost four weeks after his official release date recently filed a federal lawsuit against Orleans Parish and state officials.
Rodney Grant filed a lawsuit on April 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, citing civil rights violations, particularly a judge’s orders for release. He was booked in June 2016 on an expired warrant after he attempted to obtain a driver’s license. Judge Camille Buras, who recognized the warrant issued in 2000 shouldn’t have still been in the system, sentenced Grant to one year in prison but gave him credit for time served. Instead of being released, Grant was transferred to the Louisiana Department of Corrections and later Madison Parish. Several errors later and after Buras intervened three times, Grant was released in July 2016.
“Mr. Grant was lost in no man’s land,” Colin Reingold, litigation director and special counsel of Orleans Public Defenders, told the Louisiana Record. “His lawyer was aware of his situation but often times we’re not. It’s difficult [when clients are] far away to make sure things are happening the way they’re supposed to. We operate under the assumption that the actors in system follow the laws when the judge says someone is to be released.”
He said if clients don’t have the ability to contact and alert them that something is wrong, especially when they’re 4.5 hours away in East Carroll, it’s possible that this can keep happening. In Grant’s case, he contacted a friend who contacted Buras.
“A majority of our clients are being held somewhere other than Orleans Parish,” Reingold said. “Part of this is because the sheriff lacks capacity and part of it is because they’re presently training some of the staff. Because of that, even fewer inmates than usual can be housed locally and that obviously presents challenges. The sheriff’s office does bring clients back prior to the court date if we request [it] and they have capacity.”
Reingold said they often don’t always know when their clients are being moved to another facility. Orleans Parish is currently in the process of training deputies because many had been working at the center without certification.
“There are so many things that sheriff’s deputies are responsible for,” Reingold said. “For so long the deputies had never received training on what the parameters of their responsibilities are—from proper record-keeping to inmate safety. Some high-profile instances of violence or suicide could have potentially been avoided if deputies had received better training. Our wait times at visits, even when they’re here in Parish, can take two hours even when they’re only bringing the inmate down the hall. So, I’m hoping that training can address everything from the mundane to the very serious responsibilities of the deputies.”
Reingold said the city just hired a new systems administrator from Tennessee, though she hasn’t started and her name hasn’t been made public. She will work at the sheriff’s office, and he said her job will be to make sure inmates don’t miss court dates and are released on time. The role didn’t previously exist and it shows state officials recognized the current shortcomings, he said.
“It’s telling that this position is needed because it shows how many challenges there have been up to this point,” he said.
Reingold said he hopes the larger implications for this position and the outcome of Grant’s case “is that the actors in the system recognize that they can’t keep waiting for lawsuits to ensure that time is calculated properly and that people are released when they deserved to be released.”