SJLF Files Its First Complaint on Behalf of Mississippi Woman Against Louisiana Sheriff for Constitutional Violations

On Tuesday, March 22, 2022, Nia Mills, represented by SJLF and ACLU of Louisiana, sued the Sheriff of West Baton Rouge Parish and several of his officers for violations of the Fourth Amendment based on their prolonged detention and intrusive searches of her during a traffic stop.

Her complaint asserts that the officers also violated state law by intentionally subjecting Ms. Mills to emotional torment and invading her privacy. The complaint further alleges that the officers’ treatment of Ms. Mills, a Black woman, was no anomaly, but instead evinces a culture of unconstitutional policing within the Sheriff’s office, perpetuated by Louisiana’s asset-forfeiture laws. She seeks to hold the Sheriff accountable for the practices of the West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office (WBRSO).

Ms. Mills’ lawsuit describes how she was pulled over on the interstate in Port Allen, Louisiana—ostensibly for a minor traffic violation. But after the routine tasks of the traffic stop were complete and Officer Allen Connelly of the WBRSO indicated that Ms. Mills was “good to go,” he nonetheless ordered her and her partner out of the car. When Ms. Mills’ partner became terrified and ran, Officers Connelly and John Gaudet placed Ms. Mills under arrest and initiated an unlawful search of her vehicle, joking and laughing about how much money they could get for her belongings. During this time, Officer Gaudet also falsely represented to Ms. Mills that he had shot and killed her partner. When she burst into tears, Officer Gaudet only responded with more taunts. Ms. Mills was then transported to the sheriff’s office, where she was subjected to further harassment, interrogation, coercion, and baseless searches of her personal devices and bank accounts. When she asked officers why she was under arrest, Defendant Gaudet replied: “For you being you.”

“What happened to me in Louisiana was a violation of my rights, and an example of discriminatory and unjust policing in this country,” said Mills. “I’m bringing this lawsuit because I want to see accountability, and I want to see change.”

SJLF Fellows Emily Barber and Amelia Piazza, along with Managing Attorney Joshua Rosenthal and attorneys at the ACLU-LA, collaborated to bring the complaint on behalf of Ms. Mills. “It is an honor to represent Ms. Nia Mills as she seeks justice and accountability from the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office,” said Barber. “This is a case about policing with impunity and policing for profit, and the type of callous and unconstitutional behavior described in this lawsuit is unfortunately too common in the state of Louisiana and across the country.”

As part of SJLF’s inaugural project, Fellows have worked with ACLU-LA’s Justice Lab project to challenge police misconduct. The Justice Lab initiative targets racially discriminatory police practices by focusing intensive litigation efforts on a single state. Ms. Mills is one of many individuals impacted by unconstitutional and racist policing. Launched in 2020, 35 cases have been filed as part of the Justice Lab initiative.

To read the full complaint, see here.