Family of man who died in Bogalusa police custody files federal civil rights lawsuit

Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 8:26 PM CST
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BOGALUSA, La. (WVUE) - A federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the City of Bogalusa, several of its police officers, Washington Parish Sheriff Randy Seal and two of his deputies following the in-custody death of a 28-year-old man last December.

The lawsuit, filed last week and assigned to U.S. District Judge Greg G. Guidry, alleges that law enforcement officers violated the rights of Eric L. Nelson Sr., who did not survive after being arrested following a vehicle crash last Dec. 19. Neither the City of Bogalusa nor its police department responded to requests for comment from Fox 8.

According to the suit, Nelson was arrested after crashing into a ditch, when officers discovered he had outstanding warrants for his arrest. The suit says Nelson initially complied when police took him into custody, and that officers agreed to take Nelson home so he could change shoes before being taken to jail. But once there, police said Nelson attempted to escape.

“According to the police, Nelson went into the woods, crossed a stream and went into undergrowth, where he was tased by police and taken into custody,” the lawsuit said.

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An attorney representing Nelson’s family provided Fox 8 with surveillance video from Bogalusa’s police headquarters. The video purports to show Nelson -- limp and unconscious -- being dragged out of a police vehicle by a Bogalusa officer and a plain-clothed man. In the video, Nelson’s head can be seen hitting the concrete as he’s pulled out of the police unit.

“I cried. When his body hits the concrete, I cried,” said Nelson’s longtime friend Eden Johnson. “No man -- green, purple, Black, otherwise -- should be treated in this manner. I mean, this is completely wrong.”

Johnson’s husband Orry said, “From what I watched in that video, that man didn’t get treated like a human or a man. He got treated like an animal.”

The video continues, showing Nelson being dragged around the other side of the cruiser by the civilian and an officer. For several minutes, Nelson lies still on the concrete as officers stand around him, appearing to occasionally check on the man’s condition.

The lawsuit alleges police “lied about the condition of Nelson and the circumstances of his injury” to responding EMS, who arrived about five minutes after Nelson was pulled out of the vehicle.

“I’m tired of things in this town being swept under the rug, I really am,” Eden Johnson said. “It’s time for somebody to say, ‘Enough.’”

Johnson wants to know why Nelson was taken to the police station rather than to a hospital when he so clearly was unconscious in the back of the cruiser.

“This isn’t going to go away. People like me are tired. People like me have children here,” she said. “We want to feel safe. We don’t want to be scared of our police.”

Bogalusa Police Chief Kendall Bullen did not respond to phone calls or emails Monday. Fox 8 also contacted a spokesperson for Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perette, who did not respond.

Bogalusa mayor-elect Tyrin Truong has already called on Bullen to resign, promising to force the issue of his removal once he takes office in 2023.

“It’s going to be key to moving forward and restoring trust in our community, because it’s basically the haves and the have nots in Bogalusa right now,” Truong said. “If you have money, if you have power, then you’re protected. But if you don’t, you’re out of luck. We want to change that narrative here.”

A spokesperson for Seal said the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office had no comment on the litigation. District Attorney Warren Montgomery’s office also declined to comment on the investigation it has received from Louisiana State Police.

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