Two Baton Rouge residents reached a settlement Wednesday with a local surveillance company they had accused of running an "illegal shakedown scheme" targeting criminal defendants. They alleged the company forced people awaiting trial to pay extra monitoring fees after they were released from jail and then threatened to return them to custody if they didn't comply.

The plaintiffs, Tayari Ross and Kaiasha White, sued Rehabilitation Home Incarceration, owned by Cleve Dunn, Sr. They claimed RHI incarcerated them until they paid fees mandated by the company as part of their pretrial supervision. The money was not related to standard bail or court fines.

Court records show a joint motion to end the lawsuit was filed and approved Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge. The plaintiffs' lawyers said the lawsuit had been settled.

Ross and White said that what Dunn and the company did was extortion, in violation of state and federal racketeering laws. White also accused RHI of violating her constitutional rights to due process and freedom from unreasonable searches. The company ceased operating in the courts after the lawsuit was filed. 

Both Ross and White were represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana and the ACLU Foundation. Details of the settlement were not released, according to Larry Hannan with the Southern Poverty Law Center. He said the plaintiffs were "happy" with the settlement terms. White was one of the original plaintiffs when the suit was filed in 2017 and Ross was added later.

"RHI used our courts to run an illegal shakedown scheme that preyed on our most vulnerable communities," said Bruce Hamilton, staff attorney at the ACLU of Louisiana. "Each day, thousands of people languish in jail — not based on their guilt or innocence — but because they cannot afford to buy their freedom." 

Founded in 1993, RHI supervised "thousands of clients" in Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Orleans and Tangipahoa parishes, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed the company had ties to 19th Judicial District Judge Trudy White and that, under "an informal agreement," she would ask RHI to provide pretrial supervision services for defendants in her courtroom. At the time the suit was filed, White presided over criminal cases; she now serves in the district's civil division.

The lawsuit claimed Judge White set bond for criminal defendants in her courtroom and then "indiscriminately" ordered them to undergo RHI supervision, without determining whether the defendant could afford RHI's fees. The payments to RHI were separate from court-ordered bail, which meant defendants would be saddled with additional costs. 

Tayari Ross and Kaiasha White both said in the lawsuit that they were forced to turn to family members who contributed either to the initial fee from RHI or the string of payments that continued after they began their supervision. 

Judge Trudy White could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. When the lawsuit was first filed in 2017, she declined comment. Dunn's lawyer, Dele Akintade Adebamiji, did not provide a comment over email or phone when contacted. Dunn, who couldn't be reached for comment when the suit was filed, was also unavailable Wednesday evening. 

The lawsuit said the company would charge an initial $525 fee before defendants could be released from jail, then require hundreds of dollars in subsequent fees each month for supervision, ankle monitoring and required classes.

According to the lawsuit, despite the surveillance fees, RHI would not typically require defendants to make "substantive reports" to the people monitoring them — apart from complying with a curfew. The lawsuit alleged Dunn and RHI monitors would threaten participants with re-arrest if they failed to make monthly $225 payments, a practice described in the lawsuit as "an unlawful use of fear."

Email Jacqueline DeRobertis at jderobertis@theadvocate.com