ACLU takes on Ville Platte curfew

by Heather Miller

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and Lafayette attorney William Goode are suing the Evangeline Parish town over a "walking curfew" that the ACLU claims singles out residents without vehicles.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana is formally fighting against a Ville Platte ordinance that it says "prohibits foot traffic on all public streets, highways, roads, alleys, parks, places of amusement and entertainment, places and buildings, vacant lots and other
unsupervised places throughout all of Ville Platte" after 10 p.m. on weeknights.

According to the lawsuit, the ordinance was enacted in February in response to a spike in car burglaries throughout the Evangeline Parish town.
The "walking curfew" is in effect between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, the lawsuit states.

Originally, the law was set to expire after 60 days, but the council has approved three extensions on the curfew since its passage. The current extension is set to expire next week. The Advocate reports that the council recently voted against extending it for another six months.

"The people of Ville Platte have been forced to remain indoors in violation of their rights to pursue their activities," ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman says. "This law makes criminals out of Ville Plate residents who simply want to walk their dogs, go around the corner to visit a neighbor, or walk to a nearby store to buy needed supplies. Ville Platte has wrongly detained scores of people simply for walking to their destinations. Punishing people for relying on their feet rather than a car for transportation makes no sense and has a disproportionate impact on those who can afford it the least."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Ville Platte resident and Evangeline Parish NAACP president Arthur Sampson, claims that the city of Ville Platte has refused to provide a copy of the ordinance to Sampson, despite repeated requests for a copy from both Sampson and his attorney.

"Not only has the city refused to provide plaintiff a copy of the curfew ordinance, the city has responded to plaintiff's requests by providing copies of other ordinances and misrepresenting those ordinances to be the curfew ordinance, when they were actually ordinances pertaining to
reflective clothing and restrictions on open alcoholic beverage containers," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims that the night after the law was enacted, Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine reportedly patrolled the streets in a police car with lights flashing.

Ville Platte Police Chief Neal Lartigue, one of seven city officials named as defendants in the lawsuit, tells The Advocate he supports the ordinance, which he says was enacted "for public safety."

Read the lawsuit here .