Federal Judge Rejects New Orleans Sheriff and DOC's Attempt to Throw Out Overdetention Lawsuit

Attorney William Most was quoted in today's Times-Picayune: "Mr. Grant is fighting to hold the Sheriff and the DOC accountable for imprisoning hundreds or thousands of people past the end of their court-ordered sentences. Judge Brown's decision ensures that Mr. Grant will have his day in court."

Background: On June 27, 2016, while trying to obtain a driver’s license  Rodney Grant was arrested in Orleans Parish on a expired, fifteen-year-old charge. Three days later, he plead guilty. Judge Buras sentenced him to a one year sentence, with credit for time served for the seven years he had spent in prison for a different issue. Because his one year sentence was immediately complete, he should have walked free. 

But Mr. Grant was not released. The Orleans Sheriff has a policy of holding inmates indefinitely until they receive word from the DOC - even when they know someone should be free. The Sheriff knew Rodney Grant should be free because he received an email from his lawyer that Mr. Grant "really shouldn’t have to actually serve any time once DOC processes it.”

The Sheriff held Mr. Grant until July 12, 2016, when he handed him over to the DOC. Once the DOC took custody of him, they should have immediately released Mr. Grant. Instead, they sent him to a private prison in Tallulah, Louisiana.

When Judge Buras found out that Mr. Grant had not been released, she took action. On July 15, 2016, she called Sheriff Gusman and the private prison warden to ask why Mr. Grant had not been released. On July 18, 2016, she entirely vacated Mr. Grant's sentence. On July 25, 2016, Judge Buras called and emailed the DOC again. 

But it wasn't until July 27, 2016, that the DOC finally released Mr. Grant and gave him a bus ticket back to New Orleans. All in all, Mr. Grant had been overdetained by 27 days.

The law is clear: the Fifth Circuit has held that "There is a Clearly Established Right to Timely Release from Prison." And courts have consistently held that once a prisoner's sentence is complete, he or she must be released within a reasonable time that cannot exceed two days. 

The DOC and the Orleans Parish Sheriff, however, consistently hold people past their prison sentence. The problem is so bad that Attorney General Landry wrote in an op-ed that there “is a layer of incompetence so deep that the Corrections Department doesn’t know where a prisoner is on any given day of the week or when he should actually be released from prison.”

Accordingly, Mr. Grant filed a lawsuit against the Orleans Sheriff and members of the Department of Corrections. On August 15, 2018, Judge Brown denied defendants' requests to dismiss the case. The case will proceed against both the Sheriff and the DOC.