The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, along with UCI Irvine Law School Civil Rights Litigation Clinic, is representing the estate of Mr. Travis Stevenson, a Black man who was experiencing a mental health crisis when he was fatally shot by East Baton Rouge sheriff’s deputies. Mr. Stevenson’s counsel filed a reply to the government’s opposition brief.
The reply brief aims to persuade the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a district court’s decision to grant qualified immunity to the officers involved. Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that shields government officials from liability, and it poses a major barrier to holding officers accountable for misconduct.
Mr. Stevenson’s counsel argues that the officers should not be entitled to qualified immunity because their conduct was objectively unreasonable. Mr. Stevenson was in his car, which was boxed in by police vehicles, when the officers fired 21 shots into the car, killing him.
The officers’ conduct is particularly egregious in light of their knowledge at the time that Mr. Stevenson was experiencing a mental health crisis. Before the fatal shooting, Mr. Stevenson had expressed suicidal intentions to the officers over the phone. Nevertheless, the first officer to the scene immediately began shouting at Mr. Stevenson and attempting to forcibly extract him from his car. This behavior is completely at odds with guidelines for dealing with mentally-ill people, and it likely worsened Mr. Stevenson’s mental state.
The lawsuit seeks to hold the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office accountable for failing to adequately train their officers on how to appropriately interact with people experiencing mental health crises. There is currently no required training on interacting with mentally-ill individuals at the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The defendants in the case are:
- Sidney J. Gautreaux, III, sheriff of East Baton Rouge Parish
- Michael Birdwell, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
- Shannon Broussard, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
- Charles Montgomery, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
- Scott Henning, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
- Christopher Masters, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office
- Verner Budd III, deputy in East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office