ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab Announces Partnership to Provide Free Civil Representation to People Facing Charges Stemming from Racist Policing
New “Civil Gideon” partnership with Orleans Public Defenders comes as Justice Lab receives more than 150 complaints about unconstitutional and racially discriminatory policing
NEW ORLEANS – Justice Lab, the ACLU of Louisiana’s intensive litigation campaign against racist policing, today announced a first-of-its-kind initiative to provide free civil representation to people who have encountered police misconduct. The Justice Lab team is seeking to partner with public defenders across the State to help defend the civil rights of victims who wish to file lawsuits against the officers or law enforcement agencies who treated them unconstitutionally.
Although the Supreme Court precedent set in Gideon v. Wainwright guarantees free legal counsel to people facing criminal charges, it does not guarantee representation for civil claims challenging police misconduct from which those charges arose. To fill this void, Justice Lab will launch a “Civil Gideon” initiative that, where possible, will provide free civil representation to any victim of racist policing, including those who are facing charges, as well as those whose charges are dropped.
To date, more than 150 people have come forward complaining about abuse at the hands of police. Justice Lab currently has more than 30 cases under investigation and dozens more slated for its storytelling initiative.
“Orleans Public Defenders has long worked to hold law enforcement accountable and protect the constitutional rights of our clients and community,” said Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton. “We have too often seen the destructive and harmful effects of racist policing. We’re grateful the ACLU is bringing attention to these issues, and we are excited to partner with them to bring real change, accountability, and resolution to our community.”
Justice Lab is committed to providing holistic support to plaintiffs throughout the litigation process. With the help of Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), First 72+, and Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC), Justice Lab will hire formerly incarcerated people as Community Consulting Experts (CCEs) to lend their expertise to out-of-state legal partners. Louisiana United International (LUI) has recently come on board as a community partner as well and will also serve as CCEs to support plaintiffs who have approached them through their Predatory Policing Initiative. The goal of the CCE program is to ensure that litigation is grounded in the lived experiences of directly-impacted people and communities.
“With the help of partners like VOTE, First 72+, OPPRC, LUI, and public defenders across the state, we are determined to help build community power, center the leadership of those most impacted by the epidemic of racist policing, and dismantle racist policing from the ground up,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.
Additionally, the Justice Lab team is working to build the infrastructure necessary for conducting intake interviews of potential plaintiffs. Corporate volunteers have stepped up to help. Justice Lab has partnered with intake volunteers from 12 corporations including: Amazon, Facebook, Dropbox, Ironclad, JPMorgan Chase, Ro, Via, Autodesk, and Visa.
“The death of George Floyd made clear that we can’t sit back and wait for justice to happen. I heard it from coworkers a hundred times in a matter of days — What can we do? How can we help?”, said Chris Young, General Counsel, Ironclad (ironcladapp.com). “At Ironclad, we have over a hundred engaged, passionate people who want to contribute time and expertise to make an impact.”
“Our now 100+ intake volunteers, many of whom hail from corporations across the country, are critical to the success of this effort as they help us efficiently document incidents raised to our attention,” said Nora Ahmed, legal director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “For those cases that cannot be litigated, for reasons such as a statute of limitations that has expired, we rely on our intake volunteers to support our storytelling initiative. In short order, we’ll be training our intake volunteers on how to provide advocacy support tools to our storytellers who seek to amplify and raise awareness about their stories.”
Due to the statute of limitations, victims of police misconduct are generally required to file a civil rights lawsuit within one year of the incident. For those whose claims cannot be litigated because the statute of limitations has expired or for other reasons, Justice Lab will offer storytelling, trainings, and other resources to empower people to confront and combat racist policing in their communities.
“We plan to make our website a space to honor and amplify the experiences of directly-impacted people, engage the community, and inspire involvement in local police reform efforts,” Odoms said.
Justice Lab’s efforts were recently featured in Bloomberg Law and the Harvard Law School Center on the Legal Profession’s magazine, The Practice, which profiled the ACLU of Louisiana’s efforts as a Black-led organization to harness the vast resources of the national legal community to empower communities of color and hold police accountable for racial discrimination and misconduct.
More information about the CCE partnership is online at: https://www.laaclu.org/sites/default/files/aclula_consultingexperts_101320.pdf
More about the ACLU of Louisiana’s Civil Gideon initiative is online at: https://www.laaclu.org/sites/default/files/aclula_civilgideon_110320.pdf
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