The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Eunice Police Officer. On June 4, Eunice Police Lt. Michael Dunn sued the city, its police chief, and two other police officers. He filed the suit with the help of the ACLU of Louisiana and the law firm Sidley Austin LLP in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Dunn has been with the EPD for nearly a decade.
The suit comes after Dunn alleges that he suffered for whistleblowing on the corruption within the police department. Dunn informed the state, local, and federal investigatory officials of widespread misconduct and corruption within the EPD that he had witnessed – including alleged excessive use of force, mishandling of evidence, misuse of funds and neglect of prisoners’ medical needs. Dunn’s lawsuit also alleges that he experienced retaliatory action from the department after exposing the misconduct that was occurring – including the cutting of pay and work hours, threats of physical harm, the imposition of baseless disciplinary actions, and the recruitment of an individual to make false allegations of bribery to discredit the lieutenant. Dunn alleges that most of the retaliation came from EPD Chief Randy Fontenot.
ACLU of Louisiana Legal Director Nora Ahmed has said that Dunn believes that his actions were honest and right and was punished by his superiors for exposing police corruption and misconduct.
“This is a police officer who tried to go through several avenues to get someone to listen, and none of those avenues worked,” Ahmed said.
Dunn is not the only EPD who witnessed the misconduct, but many other officers were scared to expose the truth of the conduct within the department because they were afraid of being subjected to the same punitive retaliation that Dunn experienced. Ahmed said that after he blew the whistle, “his responsibilities have been stripped, as have his overtime and pay in retaliation because he went to outside authorities to look at concerns that he had with misconduct in the department.”
The lawsuit also names EPD officers Victor Fontenot and Ryan Young, and the City of Eunice. Dunn alleges that Fontenot and Young assisted Chief Fontenot in the punitive retaliation that Dunn suffered from. Dunn is exposing the selective decision-making used by Chief Fontenot, who often allowed criminal actions by his friends, family, and political cronies. The suit also charges that Chief Fontenot would look the other way when his favoured officers committed misconduct. At the same time, officers and subordinates who disagreed with his actions or refused to engage in corruption were punished.
Dunn’s lawsuit comes after the widespread misconduct being exposed across the country following the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin.
“In 2018, after nearly a decade at the Department, Lt. Dunn felt that the system he believed in was breaking down,” the lawsuit states. “He observed pervasive corruption and misconduct by certain of his fellow officers … which the Department refused to address. Over the past three years, Lt. Dunn has notified state, local, and federal authorities about the misconduct he saw. He informed authorities that Chief Fontenot selectively enforces the law – protecting friends, family members, and political allies from criminal charges, and turning a blind eye to favored officers’ misconduct … Indeed, the Department’s practices are akin to the types of unconstitutional and dangerous policing that are currently subject to intense state and national attention, but ineffective policies at several levels of government allow Chief Fontenot to quash reports of misconduct and punish employees who report illegal activity.”