The New Orleans False Arrest Story, or: what sergeant Bryan Lampard did one day.

[edited to remove old irrelevant stuff]

From spring 2003-spring 2004, for complicated reasons, I found myself living in New Orleans. (I cannot recommend it.) On Thursday, July 24, 2003, I was driving up Esplanade Ave., having dropped a friend off at work. I had some left-wing bumper stickers, and, apparently, a broken brakelight. I noticed a police officer following closely behind and squinting at the rear of my car.

As I move over to let him pass, he changes lanes behind me and hits his lights, pulling me over, ostensibly for the aforementioned broken brakelight. He approaches my car and, without any visible reason, asks if I’ve ever been arrested before or if I have any guns or drugs. After I answer “no” to both questions, he orders me out and to put my hands on the trunk. As he frisks me, he repeats the questions.

He takes my keys and opens my car, beginning to root through the passenger area. (Edit: in standard former-ACLU-employee form, I break out the old standby “I do not consent to this search” here.) I pick up my cellphone to call for help. He takes it away. I flash one of my several bar cards and point out that he’s screwing with a lawyer. To my surprise, my mild intimidation attempt does not help matters. (I cannot recommend it.) He cuffs me and sticks me in the back of the cruiser, ostensibly on grounds of “possession of marijuana.” (Incidentally, to this day, I don’t know how to roll a joint. I certainly didn’t have any weed in the car or on my person.)

He resumes rooting through the car. After some minutes, he produces something vaguely joint-looking and shoves it under my nose with a hearty “What do you think about this, Mr. Lawyer?” Me: “I’ve never seen it before in my life.”

He then carts me off to Orleans Parish Prison, which is the local jail. Naturally, he tucks a ticket for the broken brakelight in my pocket as he departs. I’m in for four hours, in a white-hot spitting rage. I’m pretty sure I singlehandedly caused a prison disciplinary problem with expressions of that rage. The screws certainly didn’t seem happy with me. And my fellow inmates obviously thought I was insane.

I eventually raised a local music-industry fixer (and thoroughly corrupt person, who, incidentally, to this day owes me money) of my acquaintance on the telephone. She called her friend the judge, who signed an order for my release. This is how one gets out of jail in New Orleans: one calls someone who knows someone. Arraignments? Bail? Hah. I just was whisked away by judicial fiat. I rather suspect the state was not heard on the matter, not that I’m complaining.

The charges were dropped a couple of days later. Calling the DA’s office to find out what happened, I learned that they’d tested whatever the pig put in the evidence locker, and it wasn’t even marijuana. Yes, that’s right, stupid New Orleans pigs can’t even plant weed right. The dumb motherfucker probably planted a joint of oregano. Or maybe he planted actual weed, but couldn’t resist smoking it himself.

Mr. Dumbass Piggy also made a lovely incriminating police report in which he claimed that he distinctly smelled burning weed as he approached my car to give me the ticket for the taillight, and saw a joint burning in the ashtray. Combine that with the lab test, and you have the makings of a quite nice romp through the arcana of false arrest law in heavy-bleeding litigation form. I never bothered to do so, because I was afraid that the DA would just reinstate the charges to retaliate (it is New Orleans), and by the time the time for that had expired, I’d left the town in horror. Also, that place is notorious for never paying its judgments.

Bizarrely, the brakelight ticket was much harder to get rid of than the weed charge. That might have had something to do with the fact that I was actually, you know, guilty of having a broken brakelight. But of course that wasn’t going to motivate me to just pay the damn thing. I wanted a trial on it (you know, like the Constitution says?). This was so for two reasons. First, I wanted a trial run (as it were) for the litigation I was still contemplating on the arrest. I liked the idea of a no-commitment crack at the cop on the witness stand, both seeing what kind of a witness he was and getting all kinds of sworn statements and other free discovery. Second, I was pissed, and wanted to piss back on the damn cop. You might say that’s vindictive. But I am, incurably, vindictive.

Here’s what happens when you try to get a trial on a traffic ticket in New Orleans.

At some point, you get a summons in the mail.

You present yourself in court on the appointed day, and walk into a room that looks like a courtroom, except there is no judicial officer present. You will never meet a judicial officer. On the spot where, were this a real courtroom, some sort of judicial officer would at least occasionally visit, there are several desks for clerks.

You approach one of those desks, and are told to put your summons in a box located thereupon.

Because nobody told you that you needed to bring the physical summons, you walk across the hall to stand in line for an hour in order to have a copy of your summons printed off.

You return and put the summons in a box.

You wait for a while.

Your name is called, and you are told to approach the place where, were this a real courtroom, the judge’s chambers would be located.

You wait for a while, on the benches kindly provided for that purpose.

Your name is called again, and you enter “chambers,” which actually turn out to be the city attorney’s office (better known as “opposing counsel”). (In my previous experience with the New Orleans traffic court, dealing with a red light ticket following a fender-bender, this was when the lawyer for the other party in the fender-bender, who had filed a frivolous lawsuit against me, also joined in and took the opportunity to try to pry concessions out of me. Needless to say, my insurance-company attorney was not present. Also needless to say, he did not get any such concessions.)

In the last iteration of this, the conversation with the city attorney went pretty much verbatim as follows:

“Did you have a broken brakelight?”
“Well, that’s for the judge to say, isn’t it?”
“Go back outside.”

You go back outside. Your name is called again. You go to see yet another clerk, at the back of the room.

The clerk hands you a piece of paper.

It is another summons.

It is for a date approximately three months into the future.

Repeat, ad infinitum.

After about three iterations of this, I just decided to not bother any more and left town. It was either that or try and figure out another lawsuit against the city, this one some kind of 1983 or maybe just injunctive procedural due process claim. And really, I’d probably have had to do both of those potential lawsuits on my own, because it turns out (I learned years later, in a very different context — an academic one, actually) that the main civil rights guy in town isn’t so good at actually litigating.

I assume that at some point an arrest warrant was issued for me for failure to appear on the nth bullshit traffic ticket trial. When I was about to apply for yet another bar (I’m admitted to four of the damn things — and can someone give me any reason why I should even bother paying the inactive dues on any of ‘em?), I decided that an arrest warrant would not do me kindly on the character and fitness check, so I searched on the internet, found some New Orleans shyster who specializes in traffic tickets (!), paid him two hundred bucks, and got a faxed copy of the notice of dismissal some time later. I have no idea how he pulled that off, and, frankly, I’m rather more comfortable not knowing. (Comments that speculate will be deleted.)

So that’s the false arrest story. If I can find the cop’s name, I’ll print it. I’ve decided that I approve of shaming punishments (and in this case, though not in all cases, naming is quite warranted) after all. (Edit: I dug up the police report [perhaps I'll scan and post it]. He was a sergeant then, and his name is Bryan Lampard, badge no. 279 as of then, and assigned to the New Orleans Police Department Special Operations Tactical Unit, which I suspect was some specialist anti-drug squad. His supervisor’s name was Sgt. J. Joseph, badge number 256).

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11 Responses to “The New Orleans False Arrest Story, or: what sergeant Bryan Lampard did one day.”

  1. Matt Says:

    You’re lucky you didn’t end up like a character in some Jim Jarmusch movie, and not the one who marries the nice Italian girl living in the swamp running a strange restaurant!

  2. Mike Says:

    Awesome story!

  3. Uncommon Priors » Sergeant Bryan Lampard of the New Orleans Police Department is a corrupt liar. Says:

    [...] found the police report. That’s the name of the cop who falsely arrested me back in 2003. Since I’m a new convert to shaming punishments, I’ve edited the original post to [...]

  4. ben wolfson Says:

    You could have ended up like the japanese man with perfect hair.

  5. Mike Says:

    Great post, thanks for the info… last part makes the most sense though

  6. Uncommon Priors » The “plant drugs on the perp” hand signal Says:

    [...] course, the cop could have just planted some oregano, like Bryan Lampard did. (Jeff, when am I going to get my song [...]

  7. Uncommon Priors » Reminiscences of the former enfant terrible of the New Orleans poetry scene Says:

    [...] the one slam poem I ever wrote, which was (naturally) an outpouring of rage&menace at the pig (Bryan Lampard) who falsely arrested me. She said she’d print it, but then turned around and surprised me by [...]

  8. Uncommon Priors » Unsolicited advice to victim of New Orleans Police Department bullying: Says:

    [...] Josh: just sue. In federal court. No institution in that city works at all. Evidence: my own little Bryan Lampard incident, as well as just about everything else that NOPD has ever done. Sue early, sue often, and [...]

  9. james herring Says:

    We were comped by Harrahs n.o for christmas in 03. On the last day we were to checkout at 12:oo. She was falsely arrested and taken to the Orleans parish sheriffs office where she was beaten.She since has had 4 back surgeries and a nervous breakdown because of this SCUM. I might at that my 38 yr old wife had never even had a parking ticket.I have to live with this every day that I put her in this position.That city is a giant seaspol and should have been condemed after katrina.

  10. Patrick Says:

    You want cheese with that whine?

  11. Paul Gowder Says:

    So you yourself are a corrupt cop then, to characterize describing a false arrest as whining?

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