Eunice Police officer’s lawsuit says his rights were violated
Eunice Police Lt. Michael Dunn has filed a federal lawsuit arguing, in part, that he endured retaliation for posting on Facebook that was in violation of his First and 14th Amendment rights after a disturbance at the KC Hall in July and August 2019.
Dunn names the city and Police Chief Randy Fontenot in the suit.
The city filed its response on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court Western District in Lafayette. The city response denies Dunn’s accusations of rights violations.
Dunn’s suit states the Knights of Columbus Hall in Eunice has been the scene of numerous incidences of gun fire, drug use, reckless driving, loud music and other threats to public safety.
The factual background in Dunn’s lawsuit includes the following.
On or about July 21, 2019, Dunn was off duty at his residence near the KC Hall and saw a gathering of known members of a violent gang at the KC Hall. Later that night, Dunn was awakened by the sound of someone screaming and the sound of tires screeching. Dunn hurried to his front door and saw a car performing “donut” maneuvers in front of his residence, nearly hitting his parked personal vehicle and marked patrol car. Dunn yelled at the occupants to “knock it off.” As the car made a U-turn and drove away, Dunn heard at least two gunshots.
Once the shots were fired, Dunn saw many people exit the KC Hall and begin running up and down the street.
Dunn called the Eunice Police Department and reported the incident but did not see any police car respond, and no Eunice Police Department officer spoke to Dunn about his report.
Dunn later learned that the KC Hall had been rented for a graduation party and that the rental agreement did not required the presence of security personnel.
The next day, Dunn reported the reckless driving and gun fire that occurred at the KC Hall, and in front of Dunn’s residence, to defendant Randy Fontenot.
In response, Fontenot laughed and said, “I guess you did not catch them,” the suit stated.
Dunn then asked Fontenot if he would talk to the operators of the KC Hall about the incident and their failure to require security. Fontenot responded that Dunn could talk to either
“Cal” or call Bayou State Homes and speak to the person in charge of renting out the Hall.
On Aug. 24, 2019, Dunn received a call from another officer who told Dunn of a tip that
there would be a shooting at the KC Hall that night. In particular, the officer told Dunn that a gang-affiliated rapper would be coming to the KC Hall and that members of another gang intended to retaliate against the rapper for a previous gang-related murder. The officer also told Dunn that he had reported the information to the on-duty supervisor..
Later that night, Dunn saw several cars speeding to and from the KC Hall, running stop
signs and playing extremely loud music. Dunn’s three-year-old child and wife were awakened several times as a result. Dunn called the on-duty officers to monitor the area.
As more people arrived at the KC Hall, Dunn saw the cars of known drug dealers arrive and be surrounded by people. He also saw other cars continually circling the area without stopping.
At 11:03 p.m., Dunn made a public Facebook post about the history of criminality at the KC Hall (including gun fire, drag racing, loud music, and the stench of marijuana), his complaints that the KC Hall operators ignored, and the ongoing gang activity, and the possible shooting taking place that night. Dunn requested anyone in the area to report any criminal or suspicious activities to the Eunice Police Department. Dunn later made an updated post after a shooting did in fact occur at the KC Hall in the early morning hours of August 25, 2019.
Dunn made his Facebook post to warn the public of an ongoing threat to public safety. He posted that his “biggest fear is bullets ripping through my house where my wife and kid sleep.
The reason for this post is to inform the public of [an] unsafe condition and pray this changes soon before someone loses their life.”
On Aug. 26, 2019, Fontenot made a public Facebook post addressing a report of gun fire at the KC Hall on the night of August 24-25, 2019. Fontenot wrote that there was no evidence of gun fire.
In his Facebook post, Fontenot also disputed Dunn’s account of criminal activity at the KC Hall and disputed Dunn’s complaints about the KC Hall, writing “I have reviewed the reports and police logs. I have also reviewed some Facebook posts and the complaints reported therein. The posts on Facebook are not based on the factual information found in the police reports, logs and officer accounts.”
On Sept. 6, 2019, Fontenot notified Dunn – a permanent civil service employee – that Fontenot was investigating Dunn over Dunn’s Aug. 24-25, 2019 Facebook post about the KC Hall. Fontenot alleged that Dunn’s Facebook post violated Eunice Police Department Procedures Order 15-7 Code of Conduct and Ethics B.2 Conduct Unbecoming of an officer (iii) impairs the operation of efficiency of the department, the officer, or city service.
Thereafter, Fontenot placed Dunn on administrative leave because of Dunn’s Facebook post.
Dunn appealed Fontenot’s discipline of him to Eunice Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board who ruled in Dunn’s favor. Thereafter, the Eunice Board of Alderman removed Fontenot as the appointing authority and took away his authority to discipline officers such as Dunn.
Since then Fontenot has continued to retaliate against Dunn, negatively affecting Dunn’s conditions of employment and attempting to force Dunn’s resignation.
The suit states, “Fontenot’s retaliation against Dunn was and is extreme and outrageous and done either maliciously or with reckless disregard for Dunn’s rights, including specifically Dunn’s constitutionally protected right to speak freely on matters of public concern.”
The suit states Dunn spoke as a citizen and his speech caused an adverse employment action.
‘Inasmuch as Defendants’ policy allows only positive speech about the Eunice Police Department and prohibits all negative speech, it restricts speech on matters of public concern and is therefore overbroad,” the suit states.
The suit ask the defendants be liable for:
— Past and future mental and emotional distress and outrage.
— Past and future loss of enjoyment of life.
— Punitive and exemplary damages owed by Fontenot in his individual capacity.
— Attorney’s fees.
— Costs and expenses.
— Interest on all damages, attorney’s fees, costs, and other damages or elements of recovery.
— All other damages and legal or equitable relief for which the law provides recovery.
A reply to the suit includes, “Fontenot, to the extent he is sued in his individual capacity, pleads and avers that he is entitled to qualified immunity for acts done or actions taken inasmuch as no violation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights occurred, all acts done or taken relative to the matters alleged in the complaint were objectively reasonable and the acts done or taken were not violative of any clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which he knew or should have known.”