A New Orleans man is alleging excessive force by a State Police trooper, saying in a federal court lawsuit filed Sunday that he was knocked off his bike by a stun gun then struck repeatedly during a drug arrest in the French Quarter.
Zachary Terrell, who later pleaded guilty, said he was kicked and stomped by a trooper with a history of aggressive arrests.
Terrell, 29, is seeking financial damages from Trooper Troy Pichon and other State Police officers.
His lawsuit is the latest bid by the MacArthur Justice Center in New Orleans to turn a spotlight on the tactics that state troopers use while helping to secure the city’s historic core.
“The law can be enforced without using brutality in the course of a stop or an arrest,” said attorney Jim Craig, who works for the nonprofit law firm. “We are without a doubt looking very closely at the methods of the Louisiana State Police in the city of New Orleans.”
A State Police spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending suit, which has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.
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The lawsuit claims that on the night of June 17, Terrell met a friend after finishing a shift at Tujague’s Restaurant to discuss their evening plans. Pichon and Trooper Jeffrey Roach spotted Terrell and the other man speaking together on the sidewalk.
The troopers believed they were witnessing a hand-to-hand drug deal, the lawsuit states. Although Terrell eventually pleaded guilty to drug charges, he denies that it was anything more than a conversation with his friend.
Terrell had earphones on as he bicycled away on St. Peter Street. The lawsuit says the troopers made no effort to talk to his friend, who is white, as they closed in on Terrell, who is black. At St. Peter and Burgundy streets, Pichon used his stun gun on Terrell, according to the suit.
Terrell fell off his bike and onto the ground. The suit claims that after that “grossly disproportionate” use of force, and while Terrell lay incapacitated on the ground, Pichon kicked him in the head and stomped on his face.
Pichon handcuffed Terrell and dragged him across the asphalt, according to the suit. Terrell said the other trooper, Roach, did nothing.
Terrell was arrested and eventually charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin, possession of heroin, distribution of a schedule IV drug, possession with intent to distribute a schedule IV drug and resisting an officer.
As a result of his arrest, Terrell needed seven stitches around his right eyebrow and suffered facial swelling and bruising, bruises to his nose and upper lip, and wounds on both his wrists as well as his elbow and knee, the lawsuit claims. It says he also has suffered from nightmares, anxiety and “increased distrust of law enforcement.”
Craig declined to share photographs of his client’s injuries.
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Terrell eventually pleaded guilty to possession, distribution and resisting arrest charges in August. He was sentenced to seven years in prison as a habitual offender. He is serving his sentence at the Bossier Parish jail.
Although Terrell pleaded guilty, Craig said that was no excuse for Pichon’s treatment of his client. Drawing from Pichon’s official reports, the lawsuit claims the trooper has exhibited a “distinct pattern” of excessive force.
Pichon used a stun gun on a man who took a “defensive stance” in November 2015, put an arm lock on someone who afterward was taken to Children’s Hospital for treatment in June 2016, put a neck hold on a “suspicious” person later that month, shocked someone who took a “fighting stance” the next month and shocked a running suspect in the back in May 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Pichon’s reports are replete with vague, “boilerplate” language, the lawsuit alleges. Nevertheless, it says, Capt. Darrin Naquin, who commands the State Police troopers stationed in the French Quarter, and State Police Training Academy Director Derrell Williams have repeatedly signed off on his reports.
Pichon, Roach, Naquin and Williams are the defendants named in the lawsuit.
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The suit comes five months after the MacArthur Justice Center won a partial victory in another lawsuit against the State Police in the French Quarter. A jury found in January that State Police violated the Fourth Amendment when they arrested a black tourist in 2015. However, the jury handed Lyle Dotson no money and rejected separate claims that State Police racially profiled him.
Craig said that Terrell’s arrest is proof that the State Police — which receives compensation from New Orleans to patrol the French Quarter — ought to be subject to the same strict policies imposed on the New Orleans Police Department as a result of its 2012 reform agreement with the federal government.
New Orleans cops are permitted to use stun guns “only when such force is necessary to protect the officer, the subject, or another party from physical harm,” according to department policy. Officers also are supposed to pause to consider the risk of injury on a fleeing suspect before using a stun gun.
The NOPD’s policy was instituted after a sweeping federal investigation found that the department routinely violated people’s rights. It does not apply to State Police in New Orleans, but Craig said it should.
“They are being compensated through the cooperative endeavor agreement with the city of New Orleans, and they should be accountable to some degree to the residents and citizens of New Orleans,” he said.
State Police Trooper Melissa Matey declined to comment on the suggestion. "We don't fall under the consent decree," she said.