NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — A federal court ruled the amount of money paid to the family of a 22-year-old Louisiana man who died in a sheriff’s patrol car must be made public.
The unanimous ruling by an appeals court in Louisiana will unseal how much taxpayer money was paid in a civil rights lawsuit against the office of the Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal in the death of Victor White III, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.
White’s death was ruled a suicide after he died from a gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car six years ago.
No charges were pursued in White’s death, but it initiated a wider federal investigation into civil rights violations in the sheriff’s office that led to 11 deputies pleading guilty. A jury acquitted Ackal of civil rights abuses in 2016.
The court’s decision Monday comes nearly two years after a U.S. judge refused attempts by local media outlets to unseal the settlement.
“We always thought that we were on the right side of this issue,” said Scott Sternberg, an attorney for the media outlets. “When a public body pays a settlement using taxpayer dollars, the taxpayers should be allowed to see that amount.”
The judge had sided with the mother of White’s minor child, the beneficiary of the settlement, who opposed making the payment public in order to protect the child’s privacy.
The court’s latest ruling noted the sheriff’s office had settled with Shandell Bradley, the minor’s mother, was already public, as were the settlements paid out for other lawsuits.
It also dismissed the judge’s other rationales for sealing the payment, including that disclosure might harm the sheriff’s office in other lawsuits and the media’s interest in a sensationalized story.
Bradley’s attorney was not immediately reached for comment.