NEW ORLEANS — A lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against the District Attorney of Orleans Parish and others alleges that prosecutors unlawfully arrest, imprison and coerce crime victims and witnesses.
The complaint filed Oct. 17 alleges the District Attorney's Office fabricates subpoenas “in order to coerce victims and witnesses into submitting to interrogations by prosecutors outside of court."
The plaintiffs also claim that "these fraudulent documents create the false impression that meeting with the District Attorney is required by law, and they threaten crime victims and witnesses with fines, arrest, and imprisonment if they do not obey. If that unlawful coercion does not succeed, Defendants routinely obtain arrest warrants to put crime victims and witnesses in jail," according to court records.
Leon Cannizzaro Jr. | The University of New Orleans Alumni
The plaintiffs, who were victims or witnesses to crimes, are Renata Singleton, Marc Mitchell, Lazonia Baham, Jane Doe, Tiffany Lacroix, Fayona Bailey and Silence is Violence.
The named defendants are Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, David Pipes, Iain Dover, Jason Napoli, Arthur Mitchell, Tiffany Tucker, Michael Trummel, Matthew Hamilton, Inga Petrovich, Laura Rodrigue and John Doe.
The 62-page complaint alleges that in the past five years, the defendants have asked for material-witness warrants 150 times, and “[i]n a significant number of applications for these warrants, Defendants make false statements, omit material facts, and rely on plainly insufficient allegations no reasonable prosecutor would believe could justify the arrest of a witness or a victim of crime. If prosecutors told the whole story, these warrants would never be issued.”
The plaintiffs claim those arrested are given high bond amounts, as much as $500,000, and in some instances are denied bond. Court appearances are delayed for weeks or months, they claim.
“One rape victim spent 12 days in jail before her first court appearance," according to the complaint. "A victim of child sex trafficking was jailed for 89 days — including Christmas and New Year’s Day — before she had an opportunity to challenge her confinement.”
The complaint enumerates the way the plaintiffs were allegedly treated by the DA's office. Baham declined to meet with prosecutors after the murder of her daughter's boyfriend, was arrested and spent eight days in jail before she could pay the $100,000 bond requested by Assistant District Attorney Jason Napoli.
Each of the plaintiffs claims to have had a similar experience.
Plaintiff Silence is VIolence is a nonprofit that “advocates for, represents, and provides services to victims of violent crime in the New Orleans community,” according to the complaint.
It also notes, “[t]he organization was founded to conduct public advocacy to protect New Orleans residents from violent crime. Under Defendant Cannizzaro’s administration, it has been forced to focus instead on protecting crime victims from the coercive tactics of the District Attorney’s Office.”
All of the named defendants work for the DA’s office.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages, recovery of costs and expungement of their records.
The plaintiffs are represented by Anna Arceneaux of the American Civil Liberties Foundation, Katherine Chamblee-Ryan and Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps and Bruce Hamilton of the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana.