ACLU of Louisiana’s Justice Lab Sues City of Eunice, Police Chief After Whistleblower Exposes Corruption Within Police Department

Lieutenant Michael Dunn says department used excessive force, ignored medical needs of incarcerated people

Affiliate: ACLU of Louisiana
June 7, 2021 11:30 am

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NEW ORLEANS – The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, alongside Sidley Austin LLP, filed a lawsuit against the City of Eunice, Louisiana, its Chief of Police, and additional employees of the Eunice Police Department on behalf of employee Lieutenant Michael Dunn. Through the lawsuit, Lt. Dunn blows the whistle on pervasive misconduct and corruption within the Eunice Police Department, including excessive use of force, neglect of inmate medical needs, mishandling of evidence, and misuse of funds—which the department refused to address.

The lawsuit claims that Lt. Dunn notified state, local, and federal officials about the misconduct he witnessed, informing authorities that Eunice Chief of Police Randy Fontenot selectively enforces the law—protecting friends, family members, and political allies from criminal charges, and turning a blind eye to favored officers’ misconduct. It also alleges that Fontenot weaponizes the disciplinary process against employees of the department who are not on his “good side” or refuse to do his bidding.

“As we’ve seen in so many incidents of police violence nationally and locally, law enforcement officers exploit the public’s trust by using their power to protect dangerous officers rather than to protect the public,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms. “Indeed, the Eunice Police Department’s deleterious practices under Chief Fontenot are akin to the types of unconstitutional and dangerous policing that should be subject to intense scrutiny at the state and national level, yet they remain hidden and shrouded in secrecy. What is clear is that a culture of corruption persists wherein reports of police misconduct are suppressed and employees who report illegal activity are punished. This is anathema constitutional policing. We demand a thorough investigation of the corruption in this department—our elected officials have a constitutional and ethical responsibility to investigate police misconduct and to hold those individuals accountable who’ve violated the public’s trust.”

After nearly a decade at the Eunice Police Department, Lt. Dunn felt that the system he believed in was breaking down and moved forward with alerting authorities to the department’s misconduct. When Chief Fontenot learned that Dunn wouldn’t remain silent, he and other officers retaliated against him. Among other punishments, Fontenot reduced Dunn’s hours and compensation while spreading lies about Dunn within the department and community, including enlisting an individual facing criminal charges to falsely claim that Lt. Dunn bribed him. Dunn has been threatened with bodily harm and targeted with baseless and pretextual disciplinary action in an effort to force his resignation.

“This is the twelfth case we’ve filed as part of our Justice Lab campaign, and every case has one thing in common: a person brave enough to come forward and call out police abuse and misconduct when they see it or experience it firsthand,” said ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed. “Transparency is vital to American democracy, and we’re grateful to Lt. Dunn for bringing these hidden truths to light. Without him, the people of Eunice—and our entire state for that matter—would be unaware of the corruption at the core of this department and the unconstitutional and illegal police practices that have gone undisciplined and uncorrected for far too long.”

“There is, inherent in these unlawful retaliatory actions, a reckless disregard for the constitutional rights of Lt. Dunn and other employees who dare speak out about matters of public concern. And it is time to end that now.”

Lt. Dunn is seeking redress for violations of his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern, Louisiana’s Whistleblower Statute, and the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. He also seeks injunctive relief for defamation, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. His lawsuit seeks to correct policy failures of the Eunice Police Department and the City of Eunice.

The ACLU of Louisiana continues to encourage anyone who has been the victim of police misconduct to contact Justice Lab. Filing a complaint is simple and confidential.

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