For the second time in as many months, a local booting company has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against a pair of law enforcement officials accused of accosting and unlawfully detaining an attendant over a parking dispute in New Orleans.
This time, the officers — Chris Clark, of the Harbor Police Department, and David Cantrelle, a reserve deputy city constable — also have been charged in Municipal Court with simple battery and false imprisonment. The case is set for trial this summer.
The officers, along with another man and two women they had been dining with, are accused of dragging the attendant out of his vehicle and striking him after he refused to remove boots he had placed on two of their vehicles.
In April, the same booting company, Premier Parking Enforcement, filed a lawsuit against the State Police after a similar incident in which two undercover troopers unlawfully arrested an attendant who had booted their unmarked vehicle. A State Police investigation found the arrest had been unwarranted, and one of the troopers received a letter of reprimand.
In the latest case, both the criminal proceedings and the civil rights lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court, could hinge on a lengthy video of the late-night encounter captured by a body camera worn by the parking attendant, Alfred Derischebourg.
New Orleans police, in issuing summonses to the officers and three other defendants last year, cited the footage in addition to minor bruising on Derischebourg’s body.
“I think it’s fairly damning,” Isaac Soileau, an attorney for Derischebourg, said of the video. “He was scared. These people surrounded his car.”
The run-in happened May 23, 2014, at a parking lot in the 1000 block of Poydras Street. The officers had left their vehicles in the lot while enjoying a celebration dinner with family at an Irish pub. One of the vehicles had an expired receipt displayed, according to the lawsuit, while the other had no proof of payment at all.
David Cantrelle, a reserve deputy constable of 1st City Court, told investigators that, instead of paying to park, he “placed his constable’s badge on the dash of his vehicle, believing he would not have to pay if his badge was in sight.”
The police report says Cantrelle also flashed his badge in ordering Derischebourg to remove the boot, believing the vehicle had been “illegally booted.”
Constable Lambert Boissiere Jr. said Cantrelle has been suspended from performing any detail activities for 1st City Court pending the resolution of the charges.
Clark, the Harbor Police officer, has not faced any internal discipline because the victim declined to cooperate with the agency’s investigators, said Matthew Gresham, a spokesman for the Port of New Orleans.
The federal lawsuit identifies John Herrin — the third man charged in the case — as a Harbor Police officer, but Gresham said that’s not the case.
Also charged with striking Derischebourg are Vicky Clark and Kristine Alarcon.
Video of the incident obtained by The New Orleans Advocate shows Derischebourg trying to explain to the group that they had to pay a total of $230 to have the boots removed, an amount they rejected as unfair. Demanding to speak to the attendant’s supervisor, they insisted they had paid $20 to a machine that did not credit them for the payment.
“Every space must be paid for,” Derischebourg tells the group at one point.
“Don’t be ripping people off like that,” one of the women is heard saying.
The situation escalated when Derischebourg tried to leave the parking lot in his personal vehicle but was not allowed to do so by the group. One of the women stood in the way of driver’s side door and refused to move for a time as she called New Orleans police.
“You’re going to have to run over him and me,” a woman is heard saying on the video. “You’re going to have the whole Italian-Spanish people after your ass.”
At one point, the group began shouting because they apparently believed the attendant was trying to back up and strike Clark’s father, who had been behind the attendant’s vehicle taking down its license plate number. The vehicle did not strike the man, but he told police he fell to the ground after pushing himself away from it.
The lawsuit, in describing this moment, says Derischebourg briefly passed the gear selector through the reverse position as he was shifting from “drive” to “park” after seeing “that all routes were blocked by defendants.”
Derischebourg’s assailants then pulled him from the vehicle and forced him to the ground. While the camera captured audio of that scene, it did not capture any images, said Soileau, the plaintiff’s attorney, because the device was knocked free from Derischebourg’s body during the scuffle.
Derischebourg can be heard saying amid the struggle that he can’t breathe as he’s being held to the ground.
The police report notes that an arriving New Orleans police officer told Clark to “let go of the person he was holding down.”
“It was pretty egregious,” Soileau said.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.