The ACLU has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a Lafayette woman who was arrested, strip searched and jailed for a peaceful barbecue protest in front of Mayor-President Josh Guillory's house in August of 2020.
Activist Tara Fogleman-Laxey conducted the protest in the wake of the shooting death of a Black man at the hands of Lafayette police officers. She said she hoped Guillory would share a burger or hot dog and discuss the shooting death of Trayford Pellerin eight days earlier.
Protests followed the shooting death. Guillory initially refused to meet with Pellerin's family or even visit the northside of the city where the shooting and protests were occurring.
The ACLU and Fogleman-Laxey allege Guillory, former Police Chief Scott Morgan, his officers, Sheriff Mark Garber, Lafayette Consolidated Government and District Attorney Don Landry violated her First Amendment right to free speech and to peacefully protest, her Fourth Amendment right by using excessive force in arresting her, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment and Louisiana Constitution.
Fogleman-Laxey has participated in several local protests and speaks at City and Parish Council meetings, largely about inequities in policing and in funding in heavily minority communities. She said she was particularly concerned when police officers shot Pellerin 11 times in the back because she is the mother of a Black son.
Based on a State Police investigation, the the district attorney's office did not charge the officers.
In the lawsuit, Fogleman-Laxey alleges she consulted with two attorneys who advised she would not be violating any laws by setting up her barbecue pit on the side of the street behind her pickup truck in front of Guillory's house. She live-streamed the protest online. Chief of Minority Affairs for Lafayette Consolidated Government, Carlos Harvin, spoke with Fogleman-Laxey, but left after receiving a call from Guillory, she said in the lawsuit.
Shortly after he left, police officers arrived and arrested Fogleman-Laxey, handcuffing her behind her back, alleging she was obstructing a public roadway even though there was enough space on the street for vehicles to pass unobstructed. Two others attending the protest were not arrested.
Fogleman-Laxey, in the lawsuit, says she was taken to a police building, handcuffed to a wall and verbally "subjected to a tirade" by a police officer who allegedly liken the deceased Pellerin's life to that of a dog.
Officers then took Fogleman-Laxey to the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center for booking, despite a COVID protocol in which only violent offenders or those deemed an imminent threat to the public were being admitted.
Fogleman-Laxey alleges she was subjected to an invasive strip search, given inadequate clothing and given a used face mask after she complained that she was at high risk of catching the virus because of obesity and asthma.
She was held for several hours. Months after her release, she heard nothing more about the charges alleged against her.
At a press conference the same day as her arrest, Guillory called Fogleman-Laxey's protest an act of public intimidation.
“It was a tragedy for our community that my children and my wife that did not ask for that had to witness it firsthand," he said of the barbecue protest.
On Jan. 28, Fogleman-Laxey attended a meeting of the Acadiana Patriots where Guillory was a guest speaker. She asked him about not enforcing a state mask mandate.
The next day, Landry, the district attorney, formally charged her with obstruction of a roadway and disturbing the peace in connection with the August barbecue protest.
A district judge in February dismissed the charges and chastisted Landry allegedly for bringing his politics into the courtroom, the lawsuit states. Fogleman-Laxey agreed to stay at least 100 feet away from Guillory's wife and children, but is allowed to continue to protest, even in Guillory's presence.
Fogleman-Laxey alleges in the lawsuit that anxiety, depression and physical injury worsened by her arrest have caused her to stop protesting out of fear of retaliation by the mayor-president and others.