Two who sued Bossier sheriff, six judges released from jail

Updated: Apr. 3, 2017 at 5:13 PM CDT
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Charles Connor, a member of the class-action lawsuit, is being held on a $1,000 bond. (Source:...
Charles Connor, a member of the class-action lawsuit, is being held on a $1,000 bond. (Source: BPSO)

BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Two men involved in a federal class-action lawsuit against six Bossier-Webster District Court judges and Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington have been released from Bossier Maximum-Security Facility.

Court documents show that Danny Brinson and James Wheat were set free Friday after Judge Mike Craig, one of the defendants in the lawsuit, ordered them released on their recognizance.

Being released on recognizance is a written promise to show up for future court appearances without having to post a bond.

Brinson and Wheat are the lead plaintiffs in a petition that alleges Bossier District Court has systematically imprisoned people "not because they have been convicted of a crime, violated a condition of probation or been held in contempt of court.

"Rather, the sheriffs are enforcing an en banc order from the judges of the 26th Judicial District Court prohibiting anyone from being released on bail if they have not paid a $40 fee to apply for representation by the 26th Judicial District's public defender," the lawsuit continues.

Eric Foley, an attorney with the New Orleans office of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, released a statement March 22 saying the result is that many people may languish in jail because they are poor, not because they are a threat to society,

The lawsuit demands an end to the practice, calling it a blatant violation of the protections of the 14th Amendment.

Booking records show Bossier City Police arrested Wheat on March 6, alleging he had violated a state statute that prohibits soliciting or panhandling on an interstate highway.

The penalties for violating the statute are a maximum fine of $200 or up to six months imprisonment. Wheat's bail was set at $1,000.

Brinson also was arrested March 6 by Bossier City police on a charge of soliciting on an interstate. His bail was set at $1,000.

Brinson is homeless and can't afford his bail nor the $40 public defender application fee, according to court documents.

"It is bedrock principle of our legal system that a person cannot be detained or imprisoned solely for their inability to pay a fee," the lawsuit states.

Brinson and Wheat had sought a temporary restraining order asking the court to force the sheriff to release them.

A judge denied the request, saying such an order would declare the policies at issue unconstitutional.

"Currently established procedures for handling bail matters would be upended overnight with no replacement procedure in place."

Attorneys for Brinson and Wheat submitted a motion Friday re-urging the judge to grant a temporary restraining order, which would immediately release them from jail.

The motion says the district judges named in the lawsuit have asked to be represented by the Louisiana attorney general's office; but the attorney general has not formally agreed to represent them, nor has a member of his staff been assigned to the case.

Wheat and Brinson said the attorney general's office won't tell them when a decision will be reached.

Their motion reads:

"Plaintiffs Wheat and Brinson should not continue to suffer irreparable harm, however, simply because the defendant judges have not cooperated in scheduling nearly a week after being served with plaintiffs' motion for emergency relief. In the meantime, the named plaintiffs sit in jail unlawfully."

The same day that motion was filed, Craig released Brinson and Wheat from jail.

The pair's attorneys partially withdrew their motion Monday for a temporary restraining order for the release of Wheat and Brinson.

But they still pushed for an expedited scheduling of a hearing.

"Although Wheat and Brinson have been freed, members of the putative class still languish in Bossier's Maximum Detention Facility solely because they cannot afford to pay a fee."

According to the motion, another member of the class-action lawsuit suffering "continuing, irreparable harm" is 50-year-old Charles Connor, of Twin Falls, Idaho.

Connor was arrested March 8 by Bossier City police on a charge of soliciting on an interstate, according to his booking sheet. His bond is set at $1,000.

In a statement, Foley says they welcome Craig's decision to release Wheat and Brinson.

"But these are only two people out of the many who are caught up in Bossier Parish's unlawful detention practices. We are concerned about other people who remain incarcerated on similar charges because they cannot afford bail. We continue to seek an expedited hearing on a preliminary injunction to provide relief to the many other people unlawfully detained in Bossier."

Whittington declined to comment on the case.

The judges named in the lawsuit have yet to respond to requests for comment.

Click here to read the full lawsuit.

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