VILLE PLATTE — The City of Ville Platte and its police department are facing a lawsuit involving the alleged actions of its City Marshall Deputy Arthur Phillips.
In a lawsuit filed on July 7, plaintiff Maria Joseph alleges that Phillips forced her to have sex with another individual while he watched. According to the lawsuit, Phillips approached Joseph while wearing his uniform and driving a Ville Platte marked vehicle for what she claims was a date.
Instead, the plaintiff alleges that Phillips repeatedly pressured her to have sex with other men and took her to purchase drugs and alcohol. After multiple attempts by Phillips, Joseph acquiesced and had sex with one of Phillips’ companions.
After Phillips reportedly attempted to convince her to have sex with other individuals, including his girlfriend, she contacted the Jefferson Davis Sheriff's department, which instead of coming to her aid, allegedly arrested her for prostitution. Shortly afterwards, Phillips was also arrested for allegedly soliciting a prostitute and was released on bond.
As a result, Phillips was suspended from his role as vice president of the City Marshall's Office and was also fired from his role as patrolman at the Chataignier Police Department.
An investigation into the incident is being handled by the city with help from the Evangeline Parish.
According to Bill Quigley, law professor and director of Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans, the involvement of law enforcement means that the lawsuit will likely be handled in federal court.
“If the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were violated the case will likely be sued in federal court,” he told the Louisiana Record. “This is typical in cases where law enforcement are accused of misconduct.”
In addition, the lawsuit will also likely to not only include Phillips and the city of Ville Platte, but also Phillips’ superiors.
“When law enforcement are sued, their supervisors and the government who employed them are usually sued as well,” Quigley said. “In order to win this case, the plaintiff will have to prove that she was coerced and that her arrests were bogus attempts at a cover up.”
This is not the first lawsuit involving alleged inappropriate behavior on behalf of the city’s law enforcement.
In January, the city settled with plaintiffs who accused an officer of threatening them with arrest and pepper spray if they didn't comply with his sexual requests, according to a story by the Times-Picayune.
The police department is also currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations of illegally detaining three individuals against their will, according to television station KATC.
Quigley said that if cities such as Ville Platte want to protect themselves from similar lawsuits, they need to take precautions in the procedures they use when hiring, supervising and training their employees.
“Situations like the ones alleged in this case come about because of inadequate hiring, training, supervision and discipline,” he said. “Governments have to pay close attention to their employees who are issued weapons and badges to make sure they are not abusing the rights of citizens.”