Illegal Imprisonment Not Just For "Suspected Terrorists"--New Orleans Man Held For 7 Months After Katrina

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 11:49 AM EST

In the autumn of 2005, after flawed levees broke and the streets of New Orleans were flooded beyond recognition, Louisiana prison officials, left without courthouses, police stations and jails, constructed cages in the back lot of the Greyhound station in order to house criminals. Topped with razor wire and guarded by imported Angola State Prison guards, the makeshift prison quickly became known as New Angola South and Camp Greyhound.

There was no shortage of criminals placed into this new prison: Looting was out of control, and police officers and members of the National Guard covered the city, picking up looters and other criminals whenever they could. One of the men they picked up was James Allen Terry Jr., whom police found on his porch on September 11, 2005. The police also found a broken BB gun and a marijuana cigarette. Terry was declared a looter and taken to Camp Greyhound, where he spent two nights at Camp Greyhound.

There, he slept on oil-soaked concrete. His personal effects were taken from him and never returned. A member of the Iowa National Guard posed with him for a photo, prompting his attorneys to say he was considered a "trophy." After two days, Terry--who had no criminal record--was transferred to a state prison, where he spent seven months without being charged, with an attorney, and without a court date. His name did not--and does not--appear on any records at Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Terry's behalf. The suit charges that the mayor, the city of New Orleans, the police, the sheriff, and the state prison system violated Terry's civil rights by holding him for seven months without charging him with a crime, while denying him basic legal rights.

While Terry was incarcerated at the over-crowded state prison at St. Gabriel, he slept on a mat on the concrete floor of the prison's carpentry shop. There was a chronic infestation of insects at the prison, and sixty-five men had to share one toilet. Once or twice a week, Terry was allowed to go to the prison yard for one or two hours. While he was imprisoned, he was also denied saline for his disposable contact lenses, so he had blurry vision during his seven-month stay. Terry was told by an unidentified person at the prison that he had been booked with looting (he was picked up at his own apartment), possession of a firearm (a BB gun that did not belong to him) and possession of a controlled substance.

No one knows how many other James Allen Terry Jr.s there were at Camp Greyhound and St. Gabriel, but it is possible that others will step forward now that the ACLU has filed its suit.

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