Judge rules in favor of New Orleans authorities

/ Source: The Associated Press

Authorities did not violate a couple's constitutional right to travel by stopping them from crossing the Mississippi River Bridge to escape the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a federal judge has ruled.

Two of the hundreds of people who were not allowed to cross the bridge following the Aug. 29, 2005 storm included that claim and others in a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish authorities. In the decision made public Tuesday, the judge also declined to give the lawsuit class-action status, saying the plaintiffs waited too long to ask for it.

"Although the right to interstate travel is clearly established by our jurisprudence, the United States Supreme Court has not decided the question of whether the Constitution protects a right to intrastate travel," U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon wrote.

A trial on the remaining issues in Tracy and Dorothy Dickerson's case — including whether police used excessive force and whether the Dickerson's freedom-of-assembly and equal protection rights were violated — is set for early next year.

Accused of having racial motives
The Dickersons were among hundreds who tried to flee New Orleans for safety on Sept. 1, but said that police from suburban Gretna confronted them and forced them to turn around. Police later said they blocked the evacuees because there were no supplies or services for them on the other side of the river.

Civil rights activists, many who claimed the law enforcement officers' actions were racist, held two protest marches across the bridge in the months after the hurricane.

Attorneys for the Dickersons did not return phone calls on Tuesday.

Defendants in the Dickerson case include the city of Gretna, its police department, Chief Arthur Lawson, Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office and Sheriff Harry Lee. An attorney representing them in the case supported the judge's reasoning.

"The court has clearly determined that what the city of Gretna did was not a violation of their constitutional rights," said Franz Ziblich, Gretna's attorney.