The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the Cardozo School of Law Civil Rights Clinic filed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on behalf of Deanna Thomas, an unhoused 56-year-old woman who officers of the East Jefferson Levee District Police Department handcuffed, violently threw to the ground, and kneeled on while arresting her for residing on a levee in April 2020. The officers also seized and destroyed Ms. Thomas’s property including her birth certificate, and irreplaceable personal affects.
The defendants moved for summary judgement before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, asserting that they are immune from suit under the doctrine of qualified immunity. The defendants argued that because Ms. Thomas could neither show an injury resulting from her arrest sufficient to sustain her excessive force claim, nor that the destruction of her property as an unhoused person violated clearly established law, she failed to show a violation of her constitutional rights. The district court agreed and dismissed her lawsuit. Ms. Thomas filed an appeal, challenging the decision.
In her appellate brief, Ms. Thomas argued that the district court erred in finding that her physical and psychological injuries were insufficient to establish an excessive force claim and that she was required to provide more than her own sworn testimony to establish proof of her injuries. Further, Ms. Thomas argued that the district court erred in finding that the force used against her while she was handcuffed was justified. With respect to her property claim, Ms. Thomas argued that the district court erred in finding that the defendants lacked personal involvement in the destruction of her property, where the defendant’s own testimony was that he ordered it to be destroyed. She also argued that it was clearly established that the destruction of her property violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures.
The Defendant—Appellees in the case are:
Robert Tewis, Police Officer Second Class of the East Jefferson Levee District Police Department
Kirt Arnold, Lieutenant of the East Jefferson Levee District Police Department