NEW ORLEANS — Another federal lawsuit has been filed against the state and two sheriff’s offices for holding inmates in jail for months past their scheduled release dates.

The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center brought the suit on behalf of Eddie Copelin, 22, Phillip Dominick III, 28, and Donald Guidry, 25, all of New Orleans. It’s the second lawsuit brought for illegal over-detention. Both suits name as defendants officials with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, the East Carroll Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections.

“The defendants disregarded their fundamental responsibility to only hold people in custody when they have the legal authority to do so,” said Emily Washington, one of the lawyers for the center. “They knew Mr. Copelin, Mr. Dominick and Mr. Guidry were entitled to release, and that their actions — or inactions — were violating these men’s rights.”

The men were held up to four months past their release dates at the River Bend Detention Center in Lake Providence, which is more than 250 miles (400 kilometers) from New Orleans. They were initially shipped there because Orleans Parish lacks enough trained deputies needed to safely care for its inmates. The facility is also paid for each inmate it receives from Orleans Parish.

Katie Schwartzmann, a co-director of the center, said in a news release that what happened to the plaintiffs was “clearly not isolated incidents.”

“There is a disturbing pattern of these public officials abusing their authority and ignoring the legal rights of those in their custody,” Schwartzman said.

“There’s a process to get into and out of the DOC system. That just wasn’t being done,” Washington said. “None of the agencies, to date, are taking responsibility for it. There’s been a lot of finger pointing but at the end of the day no one has claimed responsibility for this inaction.”

A spokesman for the state and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office declined comment, citing pending litigation. A telephone call seeking comment from the East Carroll Parish Sheriff’s Office was not immediately returned.

A similar suit was filed Aug. 2 on behalf of Jessie Crittindon and Leon Burse, who were each held in custody for five months after their release dates.

Both lawsuits seek among other things an award of damages and an order granting reasonable attorney’s fees.

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CHEVEL JOHNSON
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