NEW ORLEANS — The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a police chief did not unlawfully hold a citizen who alleged false imprisonment. 

Sorrento Police Chief Earl Theroit is not liable for falsely arresting or causing intentional infliction of emotional distress upon Lisa Hernandez, according to a Sept. 7 ruling from panel of judges, including Rhesa Hawkins Barksdale, James Dennis and Edith Clement, who found no conclusive error in the 2013 arrest.

The incident, which Hernandez claimed was sexual harassment but Theroit said was inappropriate sexual conduct for which he was found civilly liable, led to Hernandez suing the town of Sorrento and Theriot for infliction of emotional distress. After losing the suit, she appealed, leaving the matter to the court of appeals. Addressing each of Hernandez’s claims in turn, the panel explained that though her claim did prove two of three claim elements, she could not prove that “Theriot desired to inflict severe emotional distress or knew that severe emotional distress would be certain or substantially certain to result from his conduct,” according to the ruling.

Additionally, the court disagreed that she was unlawfully arrested. Citing Kelly v. W. Cash & Carry Bldg. Materials Store (1999), “under Louisiana law, '[f]alse imprisonment is the unlawful and total restraint of the liberty of the person',” according to the ruling. However, Hernandez had ample opportunity to free herself from her alleged imprisonment based on her trial testimony, during which she said “she was able to leave through a back door to smoke a cigarette,” since the door remained unlocked, the ruling states. 

The appeals court panel addressed the districts court's reasoning for the ruling, specifically noting “the fact that Hernandez chose not to exit Theriot’s car when he drove her to her mother’s house; Hernandez’s own testimony that she was not locked in Theriot’s office and placed several phone calls to her boyfriend while inside; and Hernandez’s failure to mention in her FBI interview that Theriot used her belt to tie her wrists as she claimed at trial,” is why she could not prove her case, according to the ruling.

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Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
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New Orleans, LA - 70130

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