Lawsuit Accuses A Louisiana Police Chief Of Punching a Man and Throwing His Wife to the Ground
Then he ordered another officer to arrest the man.
Late one night in September 2017, Reggie Pitre, the police chief of Golden Meadow, was off duty and drinking at a bar in the tiny Louisiana town. The chief was enjoying a hard rock show, when he noticed another patron, Jason Cortez, stumbling around and knocking over equipment. After speaking with one of his friends, Pitre grabbed Cortez’s arm and told him it was time to go.
Pitre pushed Cortez out of the bar. Gripped by the chief outside, Cortez then appeared to slap at Pitre. Minutes later, despite attempted interventions from other bar patrons, Pitre struck Cortez “with a closed fist to the left side of his facial area.”
Cortez’s wife, Chloe Cortez, tried to intervene. According to the police report describing video footage of the incident, Pitre then “grabbed her right wrist with his left hand and grabbed her around the neck with his right hand,” throwing her “to the ground very aggressively.” After she was knocked down, Chloe Cortez’s shin was bleeding, the report said. When she stood up, the chief “grabbed her and pushed her against the handrail of the stairs.”
According to a new lawsuit filed in September on behalf of the Cortez family by the Law Office of William Most and the Rhodes Law Firm, when Assistant Chief Charles Findley, arrived at the bar, Pitre lied about what had happened and had Findley arrest Jason Cortez.
Pitre claimed that Jason Cortez had punched him in the face twice inside the bar, and that a woman had grabbed the chief from behind, ripping his shirt.
Findley told Cortez to put his hands behind his back. The drunk patron replied, “Fuck you.” Still refusing to cooperate, Cortez moved toward the assistant chief, according to the report. Findley used a stun gun on Cortez.
Findley again told Cortez to put his hands behind his back. Again, Cortez replied, “Fuck you.” Findley stunned him again. Cortez then put his hands behind his back, was handcuffed, and arrested.
But when Findley went back to the bar to review the surveillance footage, he saw a different story. After reviewing the video, Findley wrote in his report that “at no point during the interaction inside the bar between Chief Pitre and Mr. Cortez did Mr. Cortez ever hit Chief Pitre.”
Cortez was charged with felony resisting an officer with force or violence and misdemeanor battery on a police officer. His bail was set at $75,000. When Chloe Cortez saw the amount, she went into a bathroom and vomited, according to the lawsuit. The family had to borrow money from Chloe Cortez’s employers to pay her husband’s bond, the complaint noted.
I’m a great guy. I’m all about charity, active in the community and raising money.Reggie Pitre, Golden Meadow Police Chief
The lawsuit also claims that weeks after the scuffle, Pitre asked Findley to falsify his investigation by reporting that the chief was not drinking that night, but Findley refused.
Since filing his report disputing the chief’s account, Findley has been demoted from his position as assistant chief, according to a local news report. In an email to The Appeal, Findley did not specifically corroborate the lawsuit’s claims, but wrote that he did not want to comment on the fight because he was “concerned about further retaliation for doing my job.”
Pitre did not respond to specific questions about the lawsuit, but stated in an email, “These claims have no merit. I am prepared to vigorously to defend myself against these claims. My report is my statement and I have not been offically [sic] served as of yet in regards to this suit.”
Citing “discrepancies with the evidence,” the LaFourche Parish district attorney dropped the charges against Cortez, and now the family wants compensation.
In late September, the Cortezes filed a civil lawsuit against Pitre for using excessive force, manufacturing false evidence, and abuse of process, among other claims. Most, Cortez’s attorney, said in a phone call he was waiting for a legal response from the police chief and town of Golden Meadow.
Pitre told WVUE-TV of New Orleans that he was defending the bar’s other patrons from an inebriated Cortez, who he said did not listen to multiple requests that he de-escalate. “I’m a great guy. I’m all about charity, active in the community and raising money,” he told the Fox affiliate.
In a news release, Most, said, “Chief Pitre will be brought to justice for his assault on the Cortez family and for his false statements. Louisiana needs to see its public servants held accountable when they break the law.”