A state appellate court has ruled that some revelers who were tear-gassed at the 2006 Sugar Cane Festival in New Iberia can remain plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit targeting the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office.
In a decision published this month, a three-judge panel of the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal approved the class-action status that 16th District Court Judge Charles Lee Porter granted the plaintiffs in Cheryl Hill et al v. Sheriff Sid Hebert et al.
But the 3rd Circuit said a district judge — Porter retired last year — must now trim the list of plaintiffs to only those who didn’t hear sheriff’s deputies issue orders to disperse and who immediately left after the tear gas was deployed.
The ruling stated that those who do not qualify are those who heard the orders but did not leave until they were gassed, and those who heard the orders, withstood the gas then retaliated “with criminal behavior toward police” by throwing bottles and other forms of violent reactions.
Appellate Judge Shannon Gremillion wrote that class-action suits have “commonality requirements” for plaintiffs.
“The lone fact that some people in the area of Hopkins and Robertson streets were subject to tear gas is insufficient to meet the commonality requirement,” Gremillion wrote in an opinion published Wednesday.
Hundreds of people were in the area of Hopkins and Robertson streets on Sept. 24, 2006, taking part in the Sugar Cane Festival, according to the opinion. Loud music was playing, and traffic on Hopkins Street was at a standstill. According to one witness quoted in the 3rd Circuit ruling, “There were infants to the elderly in attendance.”
Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeffery Schmidt said in a report that people who lived nearby had complained about vehicles blocking Hopkins Street, and he was ordered to clear the street of people.
Schmidt said deputies made at least three announcements on the public address system to “clear the street or gas would be deployed,” the ruling states.
Schmidt said the only response the crowd gave to the dispersal order came from nearby motorcycle riders who revved their engines when the announcements were made.
Seeing no response to police orders to go home, Schmidt and another deputy threw tear gas onto the street. This time, the crowd responded by throwing bottles at deputies.
“Sergeant Schmidt said the situation escalated, and the crowd started to surround them while yelling and threatening them,” the report states, and the deputies retreated because “they were afraid.”
Many people who said they were on Hopkins Street during the incident joined the lawsuit filed in federal court against the Sheriff’s Office. The lawsuit was later dismissed in federal court, and attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a suit seeking damages in Louisiana’s 16th Judicial District against the Sheriff’s Office and Sid Hebert, who was sheriff at the time.
In 2013, Judge Porter granted the plaintiffs’ class-action status. Last week, the 3rd Circuit said class action was warranted but that not all the plaintiffs qualified. The appellate court sent the case back to state district court in New Iberia.
The Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office serves as the police force for New Iberia, which disbanded its municipal police force in 2004.