A Louisiana woman was arrested for video recording inside a police station Sunday, her camera seized as “evidence,” a small-town police department operating without oversight or accountability.
It was the latest act of abuse by the Crowley Police Department against Theresa Richard, a 44-year-old woman who has been having issues with them since her daughter and granddaughter were killed in a house fire last year.
Richard sent me an email last night, which I am reposting below in its entirety.
To sum it up, Richard’s husband and brother were confronted by cops for removing a safe from the burned house after the fire inspector had deemed the investigation over.
The two men had wheeled the safe over on a dolly because the house was only down the street from where Richard lived.
But police arrived and accused them of stealing the safe. Richard said they also assaulted her and ordered her back inside her home. However, they ended up leaving without arresting anybody.
We can pretty much assume that police had intended to steal the safe, which is why they were angry that the two men were removing it from the burnt house.
Richard responded by suing them, but was unable to get the local newspaper, the Crowley Post-Signal, to report on the lawsuit because they’re too busy writing puff pieces on the cops.
However, she did manage to get the newspaper from the neighboring town to report on the suit, which unfortunately, is not sold in Crowley, a town of less than 15,000 residents.
So she grabbed about 75 copies of the Eunice Today newspaper to distribute them to residents of Crowley, including the department’s police chief, K.P. Gibson.
But when she entered the department to drop the newspaper off while carrying her camera as it was recording, she ended up getting arrested for “remaining after being forbidden,” which appears to be Louisiana’s version of trespassing, and applied unconstitutionally in Richard’s case if she is being truthful in her email, which I have no reason to doubt.
A. No person shall without authority go into or upon or remain in or upon or attempt to go into or upon or remain in or upon any structure, watercraft, or any other movable, or immovable property, which belongs to another, including public buildings and structures, ferries, and bridges, or any part, portion, or area thereof, after having been forbidden to do so, either orally or in writing, including by means of any sign hereinafter described, by any owner, lessee, or custodian of the property or by any other authorized person. For the purposes of this Section, the above mentioned sign means a sign or signs posted on or in the structure, watercraft, or any other movable, or immovable property, including public buildings and structures, ferries and bridges, or part, portion or area thereof, at a place or places where such sign or signs may be reasonably expected to be seen.
Now police are refusing to return her camera in complete violation of the law as the United States Department of Justice specified in its guidelines from last year.
Warrantless seizures are only permitted if an officer has probable cause to believe that the property “holds contraband or evidence of a crime” and “the exigencies of the circumstances demand it or some other recognized exception to the warrant requirement is present.” United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701 (1983). Any such seizure must be a “temporary restraint where needed to preserve evidence until police c[an] obtain a warrant.” Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 334 (2001). Seizures must be limited to a reasonable period of time. For example, in Illinois v. McArthur, the Supreme court upheld a police officer’s warrantless seizure of a premises, in part, because police had good reason to fear that evidence would be destroyed and the restraint only lasted for two hours – “no longer than reasonably necessary for the police, acting with diligence, to obtain the warrant.” Id. at 332. Once seized, officers may not search the contents of the property without first obtaining the warrant. Place, 462 U.S. at 701 & n.3. In the context of the seizure of recording devices, this means that officers may not search for or review an individual’s recordings absent a warrant.
Hopefully, they’re not stupid enough to delete her footage because we will do all we can to help her recover it. And we’ll turn it into a national story.
This is a department that is crying out to be investigated by the feds or at least by the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, not that we would expect anything from local cops investigating local cops.
Richard’s lawyer has been unable to get them to return her camera, so maybe the ACLU of Louisiana can do something.
Or maybe we can just call flood the hell out of them until they return her camera: (337) 788-4114.
Crowley Mayor Greg Jones can be reached at (337) 788-4100.
It’s an infuriating story, to say the least.
Here is her email:
I wanted to contact you because I have been going through what has turned into a battle between my family and the Crowley, Louisiana Police Department. This past Sunday I was arrested at the police station for video recording…they said I was causing a disturbance and charged me with remaining after being banned.
Just to give a little background, our battle with CPD started June 7, 2012. My daughter and granddaughter died in a house fire. She lived only a few houses down from ours and after the investigation was completed the house was released to my husband and I and we were advised to remove a safe that had survived the fire asap. Later that afternoon my husband went to get the safe with my brother and rolled it on a dolly from the burnt house to ours. The police showed up and caused a big ruckus and accused us of stealing and disturbing a crime scene. My daughter and I were both assaulted in the melee but eventually the cops got a radio call and without saying a word, they just got in their cars and left. Understand that I am probably leaving out many more details in the interest of keeping this as short as possible.
We tried to go through the I.A process but after the officer was notified in writing about the investigation we began to be harassed by all the CPD cops. Soon after I hired a lawyer and began requesting documents regarding the IA file and the records and radio calls and dash cam from the night of the fire. My attorney eventually filed a Writ of Mandamus and we got a judgement but still do not have the files from the fire or recordings etc. We also filed a civil suit for the civil rights violations from the night of the fire.
So the local paper wouldn’t cover the story about the lawsuit and I eventually met a reporter in the next town over who was interested in covering it. His article ran in the Eunice Today last Sunday. They don’t sell the Eunice paper here in Crowley so my husband and I drove to Eunice and bought 45 copies to give out at our place of business. I also had the bright idea to drop off a copy at the police station. It was Sunday, so I knew the chief wouldn’t be there. I had every intention of bringing the paper in and leaving. I was caring my video camera as I have done for the last year and a half every time I have any encounters with CPD as I was advised to do by my attorney. It had never been an issue before. So I walked in and asked the girl at the window if I could drop this off for the chief.
She was nice and told me she would and so I tried to slide it into the little tray but it didn’t fit and as I was fumbling with it a police officer, Scott Foggleman, walked inside and told me to shut off my camera. I explained I had a right to film police officers in the course of their duties etc. He told me to get out of the police station because I was causing a disturbance. We went back and forth about how he could throw me out of a public building when I wasn’t causing a disturbance etc. and before I knew it I was surrounded by cops and Foggleman ordered them to arrest me. They took my camera as evidence and booked me into the parish jail on remaining after being banned.
I do have an attorney working on the case who I have the utmost confidence in, but I am wondering if you are aware of any laws or case law that would help me get my camera back? Any suggestions? My lawyer has taken every step he can at the moment to demand the return of the camera but you know how they are…it’s just a waiting game. The police department say they are reviewing the video and the ADA is handling the case. They won’t back down, they are going to make us jump through every hoop to get it back. They dont want me to upload the video on the camera because it will prove I wasn’t causing a disturbance.
And like I said before, the local news paper, Crowley Post Signal, wouldn’t cover the lawsuit but they sure had my name in the paper for the arrest this Tuesday.
Also, after my arrest this Sunday the Police Department put signs outside of their public waiting area that says no video cameras allowed. My next question to you is, if I think this is a violation of the constitutional rights of everyone, what kind of strategy can I use to hold them accountable and force them to take the signs down? Do you have any insight to offer on that?
I know you guys do not claim to be lawyers but I am hopeful you can offer some advise from your own personal experience. Any help would be appreciated. I am a huge fan of your website and am one reader who is grateful for the work you do.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help your organization. Thank you so much for reading,