July 8, 2020
New Orleans, La. —The Promise of Justice Initiative (PJI) has issued a letter asking the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately launch a Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act investigation into the practices of the Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Jennings Police Department, and other local law enforcement agencies. In a letter to the Department of Justice, the New Orleans based advocacy organization outlined dozens of incidents of sexual abuse, intimidation, and corruption that have remained unaddressed on a state or local level.
The Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff’s Office, Jennings City Police Department, and other agencies in the Southwest Louisiana region have a long history of corruption and misconduct that includes allegations of law enforcement involvement in the drug trade, sex trafficking in the Jefferson Davis Parish jail, fatal shootings of civilians, and the unsolved of homicides of eight Jefferson Davis Parish women from 2005-2009 who have become nationally known as the “Jeff Davis 8.” The Jeff Davis 8 case has been investigated by local, state and federal authorities and was the subject of a 2016 New York Times bestselling book and a 2019 Showtime docu-series. Yet, justice for the murdered women— and accountability for misconduct committed by Jefferson Davis Parish law enforcement—remains elusive.
PJI’s Executive Director, Mercedes Montagnes commented “Police officers have failed to protect community members from violence for decades. This is particularly true for the women of the community, most notably eight women murdered over a period of five years, known as the Jeff Davis 8, whose homicides go unsolved to this day.” As national attention focuses on widespread violence and abuse at the hands of police, these rural communities seek accountability and answers for the crimes committed against their loved ones. “Around the country, people want justice,” said Andrew Newman, father of Kristen Gary Lopez, the third victim of the Jeff Davis 8. “The Jeff Davis 8 deserve justice too.”
Retired Louisiana State Police Officer and Jefferson Davis Parish resident Leon “Bucky” Millet said, “In my opinion, it is evident that if these murders were solved, it would have to expose the underbelly of police corruption at its worst. I believe they can’t handle the truth, nor do they want the truth.” The letter further addresses how police officers have violated the constitutional rights of community members and maintained an environment of fear and institutional terror.
A federal investigation is necessary after a series of local and state investigations have failed to stop or slow the police misconduct in the region. The letter details how many of the officers engaged in these practices, including those who trafficked and raped women in the parish jail, have not only escaped any consequences for their behavior, but have continued to find employment with nearby law enforcement agencies. “Federal intervention is essential to address this problem. Given the ongoing dangers to community members, especially women in the community, it is urgent that the DOJ immediately launch a CRIPA investigation,” commented PJI law clerk Maya Chaudhuri.
Mercedes Montagnes, Executive Director