Parish: Jefferson

Police Department: East Jefferson Levee District Police Department

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

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, alongside Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, is now representing Ms. Deanna Thomas—a Black woman presently experiencing homelessness, who was arrested for camping on a levee in Laketown Park.

During the arrest, Ms. Thomas was retrieving her belongings, and one officer handcuffed her and knocked her to the ground while she was still handcuffed. Unable to break her fall, she was slammed to the ground face-first, which caused her glasses to snap in half against her face. The force of the fall caused Ms. Thomas to unintentionally release her bowels and other severe physical and emotional injuries. This brutal encounter did not end there. The officer then knelt with his entire body weight on Ms. Thomas’s back, grabbed her left arm, and lifted it, twisting her left shoulder. The officer refused Ms. Thomas’s pleas to loosen the excessively tight handcuffs even as her wrists began to swell due to her Lupus flaring up. She was pulled up by handcuffs behind her back, causing more strain to her already injured shoulders, and he pushed her into the back of the police car. Ms. Thomas, who was 54 years old at the time, was not allowed to catch her balance and fell into the police car. Just as alarming, another officer stood several feet away and failed to intervene or make any attempt to protect Ms. Thomas as she was enduring such a vicious encounter.

The complaint accuses the two officers of using excessive force in violation of Ms. Thomas’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, among other tort claims, such as assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It seeks damages for the physical and emotional harm that Ms. Thomas endured, including her broken eyeglasses, lacerations to her face, pain to her wrist and shoulder, and enduring psychological and emotional distress.

On September 8, 2022, the district court held that Ms. Thomas did not provide sufficient evidentiary support for her claims and that the officers involved were entitled to qualified immunity. On this basis, the court closed Ms. Thomas’ case. Ms. Thomas appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The Fifth Circuit held oral argument on Ms. Thomas’ case in September 2023, and February 28, 2024 the Fifth Circuit overturned the lower court’s ruling and reinstated the case. 

The case is now currently set for trial on January 27, 2025.

The defendants in the case are:

  • Officer Robert Tewis, officer with the Eastern Jefferson Levee District Police Department
  • Officer Kirt Arnold, officer with the Eastern Jefferson Levee District Police Department

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