NEW ORLEANS — The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit on behalf James Terry, claiming he was wrongfully arrested days after Hurricane Katrina and unlawfully detained for seven months.
The suit asks for monetary damages from the city of New Orleans; Mayor Ray Nagin; former police chief Eddie Compass; police superintendent Warren Riley; two unnamed police officers; state Department of Public Safety & Corrections Secretary Richard L. Stalder; and Cornel Hubert, warden of Hunt Correctional Center.
There was no immediate comment from the mayor or police department.
On Sept. 11, 2005, Terry was at his residence, according to an ACLU news release. Members of the Iowa National Guard spotted him on the porch, climbed the surrounding fence and broke in without a warrant or probable cause of criminal activity, the release said.
The New Orleans Police Department was called in, and officers arrested Terry.
"The Constitution, the foundation of our freedom, still applies in a state of emergency, and public officials have a sworn duty to uphold it before, during and after a hurricane," said Joe Cook, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. "The National Guard and the police did not have license to make a mockery of the rule of law, which seemed all too common in the days after Katrina."
Terry was taken to the bus station, which had been converted into a temporary jail and held there for two days, the ACLU said. He was then transferred to Hunt Correctional Center, where he was housed in a maximum-security cellblock and later in a carpentry shop on a mat on a concrete floor, the group said.
Terry remained incarcerated until April 4, 2006, when he was released for unknown reasons.
‘Paid a very high price’
The ACLU said that Terry believes he was arrested for looting, possession of a controlled dangerous substance, and possession of a firearm. There is no explanation for the looting allegation, as he lived in the residence where he was arrested.
It is believed that the drug possession allegation was because the National Guard found a marijuana cigarette in the house. The firearm allegation was because officers found a BB gun also in the residence, the ACLU said.
Terry lacked knowledge of the judicial system, which may have slowed his release, the ACLU said. But the organization maintains he was not given access to legal materials, as required by law, to try to help himself. The ACLU found no record of Terry having a hearing or being appointed a lawyer. The organization said it is not believed that Terry was ever charged with a crime.
"He was denied his constitutional protection against unlawful search and seizure, his rights to due process, to counsel, to access the courts and his right to not be held in cruel and unusual conditions," said Katie Schwartzmann, an ACLU staff attorney. "Our system let him down, and he paid a very high price with seven months of his life."
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