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Thomas v. Tregre

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 12, 2018

TRAVIS THOMAS
v.
MICHAEL TRAGRE, CHIEF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH

         SECTION: "S" (3)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARY ANN VIAL LEMMON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion In Limine asking the court to take judicial notice of the jury verdict in Randle v. Tragre, C/A No. 15-395, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (Doc. #59) is GRANTED as unopposed.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion In Limine asking the court to take judicial notice of motions in limine filed by the District Attorney in certain criminal actions in the 40th Judicial District Court, Parish of St. John the Baptist, State of Louisiana (Doc. #62) is GRANTED as unopposed.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Rule 56(c) Objection (Doc. #68) is DENIED.[1]

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #60) is DENIED.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #61) is GRANTED, and plaintiff's claims against the defendant are DISMISSED.

         BACKGROUND

         This matter is before the court on cross motions for summary judgment filed by plaintiff and defendant.

         From July 1, 2012, to April 7, 2015, plaintiff, Travis Thomas, who is African American, was employed as a deputy with the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office ("SJBPSO") in the narcotics division. Defendant, Michael Tragre, who is also African American, is the Sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish. In February 2014, Thomas and Hardy Schexnayder, another African American narcotics officer, informed the narcotics division supervisor, Walter Chappel, an African American, that Justin Bordelon, who is white, used excessive force on an African American suspect named Darnell Randle while he was detained.

         Captain C.J. Destor, who is a white employee of the SJBPSO, conducted an internal affairs investigation into the matter. Destor interviewed all of the deputies involved and Randle. Thomas told Destor that he saw Bordelon hit Randle in the face with a flashlight. Schexnayder and Detective Jonathan Rivet, who is African American, corroborated Thomas' story. Bordelon told Destor that, while Thomas was trying to get control over Randle, Thomas forced Randle into a door frame, which resulted in a cut on Randle's face. Bordelon also stated that he tried to pry a bag of cocaine out of Randle's mouth by using pressure points and his flashlight as a tool, and at some point he put Randle in a headlock. Randle told Destor that Thomas and Schexnayder, not Bordelon, were the officers that beat him. Polygraph tests determined that Bordelon was truthful and Schexnayder was untruthful. Thomas's polygraph test was inconclusive. Destor recommended exonerating Bordelon, and taking disciplinary action, possibly termination, against Thomas and Schexnayder. After considering all of the evidence, Sheriff Tragre did not find any of the deputies' versions of events to be conclusive because there were multiple conflicting statements. Thus, Sheriff Tragre did not take any disciplinary action against any of the officers at that time.

         A year later, Sheriff Tragre was informed by the District Attorney of the 40th Judicial District that the results of the aforementioned internal affairs investigation were being sought or would be sought by criminal defense attorneys in cases where the deputies involved were to serve as witnesses. District Attorney Bridget A. Dinvaut instructed the felony prosecutors to file motions in limine in such cases to exclude the internal affairs report, particularly the results of the polygraph tests, from being introduced as evidence. Sheriff Tragre thought the internal affairs report in this matter would be problematic if produced in criminal cases and decided to transfer Thomas and Schexnayder to positions where they would be less likely to make arrests that would necessitate their testifying in court.

         Thomas alleges that Sheriff Tragre decided to transfer Thomas and Schexnayder to the corrections department. Thomas claims that he met with Sheriff Tragre and explained that placing former narcotics officers in the corrections department was a security risk because a large number of the inmates were arrested by Thomas and Schexnayder and those inmates may have hostile feelings toward them. Thomas viewed the proposed transfer to the corrections department as a demotion because "[c]orrections officers do not have the same privileges and responsibilities as officers assigned to narcotics." Thomas resigned. Schexnayder accepted an assignment providing security at the courthouse. Bordelon was not reassigned and remained a narcotics officer until his employment with the SJBPSO ended in May 2015.

         In August 2015, Thomas filed a Charge of Discrimination against Sheriff Tragre with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging racial discrimination, disparate treatment and constructive discharge stemming from Sheriff Tragre's decision to transfer Thomas to the corrections department. The EEOC issued a Right to Sue letter to Thomas on April 19, 2016.

         Meanwhile, Randle sued Sheriff Tragre, Thomas, Schexnayder, Chappel, Bordelon, and other SJBPSO deputies in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana alleging, among other things, that they violated his right guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to be free from the use of excessive force. Randle's claims against Thomas and Schexnayder were tried before a jury in December 2015. The jury found that neither Thomas nor Schexnayder violated Randle's constitutional rights by subjecting him to excessive force that "was the cause-in-fact and the proximate cause of the injury for which [Randle] sought to recover." The jury declined to find that Thomas or Schexnayder "committed an assault and/or battery on [Randle] and that such assault and/or battery was the cause-in-fact and the proximate cause of the injury for which [Randle sought] to recover." Sometime after the trial Sheriff Tragre promoted Schexnayder to the rank he held prior to being moved to the courthouse, assigned him to central investigations and gave him back pay and benefits from the date that he was moved to the courthouse.

         Thomas alleges that he twice "reached out" to Sheriff Tragre to ask about reinstatement with back pay and benefits, but Sheriff Tragre has not responded. Thomas filed another Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC against Sheriff Tragre this time alleging retaliation for Sheriff Tragre's refusing to rehire Thomas after he filed his initial ...


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