Katrina Civil Rights Class Action

Charles R. “Chuck” Mullins handles civil rights cases for citizens who receive serious personal injuries or death at the hands of police officers in Jackson, Hinds County, Rankin County, Madison County and all over Mississippi.

A federal judge has certified a class action lawsuit for a group of New Orleans transit workers who claim their constitutional rights were violated by police officers who stopped them while they tried to flee the city in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.

However, U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon’s ruling Monday says more than 800 other people who were blocked from walking across a bridge to get out of New Orleans aren’t entitled to class certification for their claims. Their claims can be tried individually, said plaintiffs’ lawyer Diane Owen.

“Their claims are still in place and they are preserved,” Owen said.

About two months after the August 2005 storm, nearly 100 civil rights advocates marched over the Crescent City Connection to protest the police blockade that stopped pedestrians from crossing the span over the Mississippi River into suburban Jefferson Parish.

Roughly 200 Regional Transit Authority employees and their friends and relatives were driven over the bridge to a bus terminal, where they claim Gretna police officers used excessive force in briefly detaining them.

“While they were under the expressway, Gretna police officers arrived, cocked their weapons, and asked what they were doing there,” Vial Lemmon wrote. “The police officers told them not to move, but left the area when they received an emergency call that an officer had been shot at the Chevron gas station.”

Around 90 minutes later, charter buses arrived to pick up the RTA workers and their companions.

Franz Zibilich, a lawyer for the Gretna Police Department, said officers’ use of force was reasonable under the circumstances.

“At the very most, they were inconvenienced,” he said of the transit workers.
A class action is a lawsuit in which the claims of many people are decided in a single case. Plaintiffs’ lawyers also asked Vial Lemmon to certify class actions against Gretna police and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office for two other groups of individuals — between 800 and 1,000 people who tried to walk across the bridge on Sept. 1, 2005, and a group of eight to 20 people who tried to cross the bridge on the following day.

Cathey Golden, a member of the larger group of pedestrians, has testified that she heard a shotgun blast as she walked up a ramp to the bridge but didn’t see who fired the shot. After a police officer ordered her family to get off the expressway, they took shelter in an abandoned bus.

Vial Lemmon said the crowd members had different experiences.
“Certification is not appropriate because the claims focus on facts and issues specific to individuals, rather than the class as a whole,” she wrote.

The judge also ruled that the group of people who tried to cross the bride on Sept. 2, 2005, is too small to qualify for class certification.

If you or a loved one has a police abuse case, please call Chuck Mullins with Coxwell & Associates.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.

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