NEW ORLEANS, La (KLFY) — The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the City of Eunice, its Chief of Police, and additional employees of the Eunice Police Department, according to a press release from the ACLU.
The ACLU, alongside Sidley Austin LLP, filed the lawsuit on behalf of employee Lieutenant Michael Dunn.
In the suit, Lt. Dunn blows the whistle on “pervasive misconduct and corruption” within the Eunice Police Department, including excessive force, neglect of inmate medical needs, mishandling of evidence, and misuse of funds, which the department allegedly has not addressed.
The lawsuit claims that Lt. Dunn notified state, local, and federal officials about the misconduct he witnessed, informing authorities that Eunice Chief of Police Randy Fontenot selectively enforces the law—protecting friends, family members, and political allies from criminal charges, and turning a blind eye to favored officers’ misconduct.
It also alleges that Fontenot weaponizes the disciplinary process against employees of the department who are not on his “good side” or refuse to do his bidding.
“As we’ve seen in so many incidents of police violence nationally and locally, law enforcement officers exploit the public’s trust by using their power to protect dangerous officers rather than to protect the public,” said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms.
“Indeed, the Eunice Police Department’s deleterious practices under Chief Fontenot are akin to the types of unconstitutional and dangerous policing that should be subject to intense scrutiny at the state and national level, yet they remain hidden and shrouded in secrecy,” Odoms continued.
“What is clear is that a culture of corruption persists wherein reports of police misconduct are suppressed and employees who report illegal activity are punished. This is anathema constitutional policing,” said Odoms. “We demand a thorough investigation of the corruption in this department—our elected officials have a constitutional and ethical responsibility to investigate police misconduct and to hold those individuals accountable who’ve violated the public’s trust.”
After nearly a decade at the Eunice Police Department, Lt. Dunn said he felt that the system he believed in was breaking down and moved forward with alerting authorities to the department’s misconduct.
ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed called Dunn brave for speaking out.
“He’s been trying for years to ensure that someone would listen. He knows there are others experiencing the same treatment,” Ahmed said. “There is bravery and commitment to come out and speak.”
Ahmed also explained that Dunn filed the lawsuit out of what felt like a duty to him.
“He filed a lawsuit ideally to end corruption and wrongdoing that he has witnessed,” said Ahmed. “He is the one coming forward because he feels a responsibility and duty that it gets handled appropriately.”
According to the ACLU, when Chief Fontenot learned that Dunn wouldn’t remain silent, he and other officers retaliated against him. Among other punishments, Fontenot allegedly reduced Dunn’s hours and compensation while spreading lies about Dunn within the department and community, including enlisting an individual facing criminal charges to falsely claim that Lt. Dunn bribed him.
Dunn has also allegedly been threatened with bodily harm and targeted with baseless and pretextual disciplinary action in an effort to force his resignation.
Lt. Dunn is seeking redress for violations of his First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern, Louisiana’s Whistleblower Statute, and the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. He also seeks injunctive relief for defamation, civil conspiracy, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. His lawsuit seeks to correct policy failures of the Eunice Police Department and the City of Eunice.
The ACLU of Louisiana continues to encourage anyone who has been the victim of police misconduct to contact Justice Lab.