Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said that it was coming to the rural Louisiana town of Ville Platte, to investigate the police department and the Evangeline Parish Sheriff’s Office, which is also headquartered in the town. It said it would look into allegations that the officers detain residents in their jails without proper cause.
This appears to be the first time the DOJ has opened a “pattern or practice investigation” solely into the practice of improper detentions. Under this type of probe, the Justice Department looks for constitutional violations. If it finds any, the department has the power to sue law enforcement agencies to correct them.
It’s not clear whether a specific incident prompted the investigation; the Department of Justice is notoriously tight-lipped about its motives for targeting a particular law enforcement agency. In its announcement, the DOJ said it was looking into allegations that law enforcement in Ville Platte improperly keep people in jail under “investigative holds” — detained without charges while officials investigate a crime.
“A Monetary Windfall for the City”But civil-rights activists in Louisiana say that improper detentions are only part of a broader problem in Ville Platte, a city in which they say residents are cited for frivolous violations, excessively fined and put in jail when they cannot pay.
It’s a system that on its face appears similar to some of what Justice Department officials found in Ferguson, Mo., where the police department, at the behest of the city, regularly ticketed mostly African-American residents for violations like “manner of walking in roadway,” and then funneled that money into the city coffers. Those who couldn’t pay were sent to jail. READ MORE