State officials have settled a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a young man who was tackled by State Police in the French Quarter two years ago during Carnival — a racially charged case that had been set for trial next month.
The parties would not disclose the terms of the settlement Friday, citing a confidentiality agreement.
“The specifics of the settlement are confidential, but it was settled on reasonable terms that are satisfactory to all parties,” said Robert McDuff, a civil rights lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi, who represented the plaintiff, Sidney Newman.
The incident, caught on surveillance video two days before Mardi Gras, prompted an internal State Police investigation that exonerated all officers involved, even after Col. Mike Edmonson, the head of the agency, acknowledged that the footage had been “unsettling” to watch.
The incident — and the widely publicized video — generated a storm of criticism among New Orleans residents and even some elected officials, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
No charges were filed against the troopers, and the U.S. Justice Department decided not to pursue a civil rights prosecution in the matter.
The lawsuit, filed in February against Edmonson, Sgt. Chris Jordan and Trooper William Latham, claimed troopers racially profiled Newman, who was 17 at the time, and his 18-year-old friend, Ferdinand Hunt, and approached them without “justification or any legal cause whatsoever.”
“Although Mr. Newman was doing nothing wrong,” the lawsuit claimed, “he was grabbed without provocation, violently thrown to the sidewalk, straddled, restrained, and physically and verbally abused.”
Video of the Feb. 10, 2013, incident showed a team of plainclothes officers walking up to the teens and taking them to the ground on Conti Street as Hunt tried to flee. The troopers let them go after Hunt’s mother, a New Orleans police officer, walked up to the scene and became irate.
Newman’s attorneys claimed the takedown was excessive and unjustified. While the youths weren’t seriously injured, the lawsuit claimed Newman suffered “physical and psychological pain, emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation and inconvenience.”
“The actions of the officers were motivated and influenced by the fact that plaintiff Newman and Mr. Hunt were young, African American men on a public sidewalk in the French Quarter,” the lawsuit said. Hunt, who was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit, was “grabbed, shoved against a wall and restrained by some of the officers,” the lawsuit said, alleging that the youths wouldn’t have been mistreated “had they been white.”
State Police denied any wrongdoing. They insisted the troopers identified themselves as law enforcement officials and followed agency protocol.
In court documents, State Police maintained that the troopers, who had been assigned to the French Quarter to look for illegally concealed weapons and juveniles out past curfew, had “objective reasons” to stop the teens based on their “youthful appearance.” They added that the area around Bourbon Street is “preferred by criminals and would-be criminals for preying upon Mardi Gras revelers.”
Edmonson defended the troopers’ action, telling a legislative committee that the video, which had no audio, told only a portion of the story. He told the New Orleans City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee that investigators had found no evidence Newman and Hunt were approached based on race.
“Our mission continues to focus on public safety in New Orleans,” Capt. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman, said Friday. “I think the success the Louisiana State Police has had in New Orleans speaks for itself.”
Daniel Becnel Jr., a veteran Louisiana litigator, said it’s not uncommon for defendants in lawsuits to insist on confidentiality agreements — even when it involves taxpayer dollars.
“The law is that a settlement of any kind, whether it’s between a government and an individual or two individuals, can always be classified as confidential, as long as both parties agree to it,” Becnel said. “It’s case law, and it’s been interpreted (as acceptable) by most of the judges around the country.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.