NEW ORLEANS—A judge has ruled in favor of the police in the last of four federal lawsuits alleging law enforcement officials in Jefferson Parish violated some people's constitutional rights by blocking them from crossing a bridge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon dismissed most of the claims against Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office.
The plaintiffs alleged that police violated their constitutional rights by keeping them from crossing the Crescent City Connection to the Mississippi River's west bank in the days after the storm.
Lemmon deferred ruling Friday on some claims made under state law. The lawsuit includes plaintiffs who have been certified as a class and claims made by five individuals. Lemmon has found that police did not deprive people of their constitutional rights.
"Because restricting pedestrian traffic on the Crescent City Connection was a reasonable restriction, it is not an unreasonable restraint of liberty in violation of the Fourth Amendment," Lemmon wrote in the 14-page decision.
She also noted that the defendants were taken to Baton Rouge shortly after they were not permitted to walk across the bridge.
The ruling comes in the last of four federal lawsuits stemming from the Sept. 1, 2005, decision by Gretna, Jefferson Parish and Crescent City Connection police to block people from crossing the bridge from New Orleans into Jefferson Parish.
The other federal lawsuits were dismissed, and the sheriffs' office settled with a New Orleans family for $10,000. Several lawsuits related to the bridge blockade remain in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
Attorneys for the defendants told The Times Picayune on Tuesday that the rulings vindicate Gretna Police Chief Arthur Lawson and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand, named as a defendant after Sheriff Harry Lee died.
"Obviously, this is a tremendous victory for Chief Lawson and the city of Gretna, as both have now been completely exonerated relative to (constitutional) allegations made by the plaintiffs in the bridge case," Gretna's attorney Franz Zibilich said. "There's still a very small piece of the case left. I would say this particular ruling knocks out 95 percent of the case."
State Sen. Danny Martiny, an attorney for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, said he's "obviously very pleased" with the ruling.
Adele Owen, a Baton Rouge attorney representing the plaintiffs, told the newspaper that lawyers on both sides worked exhaustively to provide Lemmon with information on the case.
"The facts make all the difference in the case," Owen said. "She (Lemmon) just didn't agree with our interpretation of the facts."