Press Release

Cooley + ACLU of Louisiana Challenge Racist Policing in Federal Civil Rights Suit

One of many cases through ACLU Justice Lab effort to combat racially discriminatory policing practices
June 21, 2021

Palo Alto – June 21, 2021 – Cooley and the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana are representing Bilal Hankins in a civil rights action against multiple law enforcement officers and agencies in New Orleans for their unlawful, racially motivated traffic stop and use of excessive force. Patrick Gibbs, Christopher Andrews and Rose Kautz lead the Cooley effort.

The case arises out of an encounter 18-year-old Hankins had with law enforcement in June 2020. As the lawsuit alleges, Hankins and two young friends were driving through their neighborhood looking for a lost dog, and they approached a uniformed officer in a marked vehicle and asked for help in their search. Instead of helping search for the missing dog, the officer, defendant Kevin Wheeler of the Orleans Levee District Police, contacted a second officer in the area – defendant Ramon Pierre of the Housing Authority of New Orleans Police Department – for backup. The defendants then followed Hankins and his friends for approximately 20 minutes before conducting an illegal traffic stop, questioning them at gunpoint and accusing them of lying about the missing dog to hide a potential carjacking or burglary. After the defendants determined the car belonged to the mother of the driver, they let Hankins and his friends go. 

“Mr. Hankins, as he earnestly sought out the assistance of police, was quickly reminded that Black youth are far more likely than their white peers to be perceived and treated as a threat by law enforcement,” said Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, in a statement. “The ACLU of Louisiana forcefully maintains that racial profiling and disparate racial treatment is patently illegal, violative of the Fourteenth Amendment’s promise of equal protection before the law and violative of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

It was later discovered that defendants Wheeler and Pierre were working off-duty the day of the incident and were working a paid detail as security patrol officers for the Hurstville Security and Neighborhood Improvement District. Further, defendant Wheeler had previously been fired from the New Orleans Police Department after an investigation found that he had been dishonest about the circumstances surrounding a 2011 incident, a termination that was upheld by the state’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.

By bringing this case, Hankins seeks to hold defendants Wheeler, Pierre, their supervisor, defendant Carl Perilloux, and their employers accountable for their violations of citizens’ rights under the US Constitution, the Louisiana Constitution and Louisiana state common and statutory laws.

The case is part of the ACLU of Louisiana’s litigation campaign to challenge racially discriminatory policing practices. Justice Lab: Putting Racist Policing on Trial seeks to bring up to 1,000 cases in Louisiana challenging racially motivated stops and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments and any other applicable laws. As part of the firm’s commitment to being an active agent of change, Cooley signed on as a Justice Lab participant last June.

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