Nearly Half of All Sheriffs in Louisiana Are Violating Public Records Laws

Richard A. Webster reporting for Verite News and ProPublica:

Nearly half of Louisiana sheriffs are in violation of a state law regulating the preservation and destruction of public records, according to documents provided by state officials.

The disclosure follows an article this month by Verite, also published by ProPublica, on accusations that the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office illegally destroyed documents in a lawsuit involving an autistic boy who died in custody. It also comes on the heels of increased scrutiny on the outsize power wielded by Louisiana sheriffs.

“[I]ncreased scrutiny on the outsize power wielded by Louisiana sheriffs”: My dad — a lawyer for the State of Louisiana and one of the most brilliant men I ever knew — used to love to say that, “there’s nothing bigger than a small town cop.” He was referring to ‘small town cops’ in Louisiana1, where he lived his entire life.

The lack of governmental oversight of elected sheriffs — despite years of complaints and allegations of civil rights abuses — has made it difficult for alleged victims of police abuse to prove misconduct. It has also led to impunity for bad actors, according to civil rights attorneys, community activists and criminal justice experts.

And the lack of state approval for the disposal of public records means sheriffs offices are not fully accounting for information about alleged deputy misconduct, which can be crucial in investigations and litigation over claims of civil rights violations. These records can include internal affairs investigations into the use of excessive force and in-custody deaths, as well as more mundane documents such as payroll records.

And, let’s be honest, Louisiana2 has a long history of law enforcement “misconduct”.

yeah, in a minute…
1 Most areas of Louisiana, save for the more well-known cities (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Alexandria, Shreveport, Monroe) are what you’d probably consider ‘small towns’.
2 Not to say that Louisiana is the only state with such a long history, but it is one of the more prominent ones, for sure.
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