By Jim Mustian | New Orleans Advocate
A booting company has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Louisiana State Police, claiming two undercover troopers wrongly arrested an attendant who booted their unmarked vehicle last year in a private parking lot in Uptown New Orleans.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, stems from a run-in that happened after the troopers, Sgt. Joseph Patout and Master Trooper Christopher Treadaway, parked a pickup with a Mississippi license plate in a lot across the street from Kyoto, a sushi bar on Prytania Street, and left it unattended for about 30 minutes.
The attendant, Brandon Hardeway, watched the troopers go into the Japanese restaurant, whose customers weren’t allowed to use the parking lot, and booted the pickup after allowing a grace period of several minutes, said Hardeway’s attorney, Isaac Soileau Jr.
“He felt pretty confident that he was doing the right thing when he booted it,” Soileau said of his client.
After leaving the restaurant, the troopers demanded that Hardeway remove the boot from their Dodge Ram pickup, saying they were undercover law enforcement officers, according to the lawsuit.
After checking with his employer, Premier Parking Enforcement, Hardeway told the troopers that the company “extended courtesy” to official vehicles used by New Orleans police as well as “other plainly marked emergency vehicles,” the lawsuit says. The company, also known as Boot Man Inc., did not make the same accommodation for unmarked State Police vehicles, “nor was it required to,” the lawsuit says.
After Hardeway told the troopers he wouldn’t remove the boot until they paid a $90 fee, the troopers told him he was “interfering with their official duties” and arrested him, the lawsuit says, handcuffing him and “forcing him into the back seat of a police vehicle.”
“It was just a complete disregard for the private property of the owners of the lot, and when (Hardeway) tried to address that with them, they didn’t want anything to do with it,” Soileau said in a telephone interview.
State Police did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Soileau, who declined to name the owners of the private lot, said the lot had a sign listing the businesses whose customers were permitted to park there. He said the attitude of the troopers had been: “We’re the police; we can park where we want; we can do what we want.”
The troopers detained Hardeway for several hours, Soileau said, but eventually released him without booking him on any criminal counts.
“After a couple of pow-wows with higher-ranking officers, they finally decided that he had done nothing wrong,” Soileau said. “It was pretty outrageous, frankly, that they held him in the first place.”
According to Soileau, the troopers took Hardeway’s keys off his belt, searched his vehicle without a warrant and removed the boot themselves, saying at first that they intended to keep it as evidence. Soileau said a New Orleans police officer came to the scene but declined to take Hardeway to jail after hearing the gist of the allegations against him.
“It’s pretty clear that, if (the troopers) had been thinking, they would have realized they were out of bounds,” Soileau said.
Like an increasing number of law enforcement agencies, Premier Parking Enforcement equips employees with chest cameras during their shifts “so that, if something happens, there’s a record of it,” Soileau said. “We have chest-cam video of the bulk of this incident.”
The lawsuit claims the owners of the parking lot terminated their agreement with Premier Parking Enforcement shortly after the incident.
The owners, Soileau said, “were not happy having all these police cars and all of this excitement in their parking lot on a day when they were trying to conduct business.”
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.