Parish: Orleans

Police Department: Harbor Police Department of the Port of New Orleans

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, along with Dorsey & Whitney LLP, sued New Orleans Harbor police officers for the unjust and racist arrest of a Black woman in February of 2020.

The officers’ decision to arrest Ms. Johnson for “obstructing traffic” as she pulled over to pick up her Uber passengers is an example of the constant harassment and criminalization Black people receive from law enforcement, often for every-day activities for which white people are seldom targeted.

On the day of the incident, Ms. Johnson was working as an Uber driver in New Orleans. When she pulled her vehicle to the right side of the road to pick up passengers, she observed an officer approaching her passengers and gesturing at them to leave. When the officer approached Ms. Johnson’s car, she asked him where he had directed the passengers. Instead of providing this information, the officer demanded that she depart.

Ms. Johnson then started her left-turn signal and waited for a safe opportunity to enter the lane, which had a considerable amount of traffic. But before she was able to depart, the officer approached her window and told her she was “going to jail.” He reached through her car window, turned her car off, and yanked the keys out of the ignition. Multiple officers subsequently arrived at the scene and, although they expressed doubt as to whether it was necessary or appropriate to arrest Ms. Johnson, they failed to intervene to stop her unlawful arrest. Ms. Johnson was held in jail for an hour and charged with three violations, all of which were dropped soon thereafter.

The lawsuit asserted that the Harbor Police Department officers violated Shauna Johnson’s Fourth Amendment rights by arresting her without probable cause. It also claims that Ms. Johnson’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech was violated because the officers arrested her in retaliation for a comment she made about how they should help her instead of harass her.

On August 15, 2022, the district court granted the officers qualified immunity, resulting in the closure of Ms. Johnson’s case. Ms. Johnson appealed to the Fifth Circuit, but the Fifth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. 

The defendants in the case were:

  • Cedric Turner, officer of the Harbor Police Department of the Port of New Orleans
  • Melanie Montroll, officer of the Harbor Police Department of the Port of New Orleans

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