Parish: West Baton Rouge
Police Department: West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
The Social Justice Legal Foundation and the ACLU of Louisiana are representing Nia Mills, a Black woman from Jackson, Mississippi, in her lawsuit against the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff and several officers in his office. The complaint “seeks to address a culture of unconstitutional searches and seizures in the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, which is encouraged by Louisiana’s asset forfeiture regime.” It asserts that the officers violated Ms. Mills’ rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution to be free from prolonged detention and intrusive searches, and then, in violation of state law, intentionally subjected her to emotional torment and distress, and invaded her privacy.
The complaint alleges that after Officer Allen Connelly had completed the routine tasks of a minor traffic stop, he ordered Ms. Mills and her partner out of the car for a baseless frisk. When her partner became terrified and ran, Officers Connelly and John Gaudet placed Ms. Mills under arrest and initiated an unlawful search of her vehicle, joking and laughing about how much they could get for her belongings. During this time, Officer Gaudet falsely represented to Ms. Mills that he had shot and killed her partner, causing her immense pain and sorrow.
Ms. Mills was then transported to the sheriff’s office, where she was subjected to further baseless searches and interrogation. Ms. Mills was told that she could not leave the office with any of her belongings unless she let the officers look through her phone, and that if she refused them access, she would have to “walk home.” Stranded in a state where she did not live and without a car, Ms. Mills saw no way she could leave without her cell phone, so she relented. The officers pored over the private contents of her phone and laptop. All the while, the officers ridiculed Ms. Mills, telling her that she had “no rights.”
As the ACLU of Louisiana and Social Justice Legal Foundation attempted to investigate the incident, the complaint describes how the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office unlawfully stonewalled their efforts by refusing to comply with the Louisiana Public Records Law. This is consistent with the incomplete data that the Sheriff’s Office has provided to the Police Scorecard. Moreover, the complaint identifies an apparent culture of unconstitutional policing within the Sheriff’s Office and seeks to hold the Sheriff himself accountable.
The defendants in this case are:
- William Allen Connelly, Officer of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
- John Gaudet, Officer of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
- Vance Matranga Jr., Officer of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
- Michael Cazes, Sheriff of West Baton Rouge Parish
- Zachary Simmers, Major of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office
- Kasey Perrault, Custodian of Records for the West Baton Rouge Parish Department of Homeland Security, Emergency Preparedness, and 911 (DOHS)
- John Does 1-4, Officers of the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office