Get Informed

Regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email

Close Newsletter Signup

Louisiana Held a Man in Jail for Over 8 Years Without Ever Convicting Him of a Crime

Louisiana Held a Man in Jail for Over 8 Years Without Ever Convicting Him of a Crime


In 2010 Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and presidency. Barack Obama was just heading into his second year in office. Social media was basically brand new. Adele had just won the Grammy for Best New Artist the year before. And millions of people in the United States had a naive hopefulness about the future of the country.

That February, over eight years ago, police in the New Orleans neighborhood of Carrollton raided a home where they said a 43-year-old man named Kevin Smith lived. Police claimed that they found small baggies of cocaine in a safe in the home—according to Smith’s attorney, however, Smith did not actually reside at this address. But he was arrested on drug charges nonetheless. Because of a previous conviction, the DA’s office had the ability—even though Smith was just facing a nonviolent drug charge—to prosecute him under a repeat felony statute in the state that would lead to up to 20 years in prison.

That’s ugly and problematic, and it’s normal. Jails and prisons in the United States are full of nonviolent drug offenders who were given harsh sentences, including life in prison, once they were found guilty.

And that’s the rub.

Smith has never been convicted of the crime that he was arrested for.

Smith sat in jail for the rest of 2010 and all of 2011. He was locked up for all of 2012 because his defense requested continuances several times and court was closed due to Hurricane Isaac that fall. He sat in jail for all of 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2014, after Smith had sat in jail for four years, prosecutors offered him a plea deal. They’d let him go on time served if he would just plead guilty.

But Smith refused. And that matters. He maintained that he did not have any cocaine and was not guilty of the crimes that police and prosecutors were accusing him of. Now, we’re talking about a man who’d just spent four years in jail and could potentially spend about 15 more if convicted.

But the madness continued. Without ever being convicted by a jury of his peers, local authorities kept Kevin Smith in jail anyway. He remained there for the rest of 2015, for all of 2016, then for all of 2017.

Then he finally got a break. On November 13, 2017, the judge in Smith’s case granted a defense motion to quash the indictment against him. Having been held in jail for nearly eight outrageous years without ever being convicted, it looked like Smith was finally going to get justice.

At that point, I forgot about the case. I read stories of his impending release, was disgusted that our justice system even had the power to incarcerate a man for years who had not even been convicted of a crime. I assumed that he had been released in time to get home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The case then disappeared from public view, but little did we know that the injustice continued.

Smith was not a free man. I had no idea until several days ago when his family and friends got my attention through comments on my Instagram page telling me that they saw me share his story last November and that he was still in jail. I asked them to email me and immediately got this reply.

Good Morning Mr. King!
Kevin is still incarcerated! He was released from Orleans Parish Prison, however the parole board is holding him until March 04, 2022. The Orleans Parish District Attorney was very sore that he was not convicted so Kevin believes that he has something to do with him being held on the parole end! He had been in jail since Feb 2010. Kevin is currently being held at the River Correctional Facility.

Had his case gone to trial? Had he been found guilty sometime between November and now? I asked his family and friends all of these questions and more, and each time they came back to tell me “no.” Smith had still not been found guilty of a crime.

But he was still being held in jail — this time at a private prison, River Correctional Facility, managed by LaSalle Corrections and a family that has gotten filthy rich off of jailing more people per capita than any state in the country.

How was this even possible? It appears that state officials claimed that Smith violated his parole by not properly changing his mailing address years ago, according to one of his former attorneys. Yes, I’m dead serious.

And his family says that Smith will serve out his parole in a correctional facility until 2022 when, according to the court docket, his parole expires.

“Simply put, the District Attorney was not able to convict him,” Martin Regan, one of Smith’s former attorneys, told me. “They dragged their feet and when they got to the parole board they brought people in who did not know the case. The parole board accepted the testimony of some unsworn witnesses who inaccurately presented the case. It was an injustice.”

Listen to me — I study injustice for a living. I’ve never seen anything so corrupt and outrageous in my life. This man is now going on his ninth year in jail without ever having been convicted for a crime. It appears that his body is being housed and used for profit in jail and for some type of vendetta from local officials.

Whatever the case, it’s an egregious injustice and we must all organize to make sure that Kevin Smith is released and that no such thing happens ever again.

Meet The San Diego DA Who Seized On The Human Trafficking Panic to Become A Law Enforcement Superstar

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan
Summer Stephan for DA / Facebook

Meet The San Diego DA Who Seized On The Human Trafficking Panic to Become A Law Enforcement Superstar


When veteran San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis announced her resignation during the spring of 2017 to run for a spot on the county’s Board of Supervisors, she was clear about who she wanted to finish her term and ultimately serve as San Diego’s next DA: her Chief Deputy Summer Stephan. Indeed, another former deputy district attorney said in an email obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune that Dumanis envisioned a “smooth transition,” where Stephan would be gifted incumbency before having to face potential challengers in this June’s election.

In the years leading up to Dumanis’s resignation, Stephan — who was appointed interim DA in June 2017 — was a rising star at the office. Between 2005 and 2008, she was the chief of the San Diego DA’s Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division and in 2012 she was designated chief deputy DA. Since then, she has enjoyed support from local anti-trafficking groups and advocates, boosting her as an expert and leader, and formed alliances with national lobby groups like Demand Abolition. These groups are also united in pushing for tougher law enforcement action against trafficking — but with a focus on campaigning against sex work and cracking down on sex workers’ customers.

Stephan’s elevation as an anti-trafficking voice coincided with anti-trafficking groups’ efforts to put their issue in the spotlight. In October 2015 a headline-grabbing University of San Diego study declared that San Diego was home to up to 11,800 victims of human trafficking “per year” which appeared to vindicate Stephan’s trafficking focus. A joint press conference about the study featuring Stephan and the University of San Diego’s School of Peace Studies painted a devastating portrait of thousands of mostly young women whom gangs trafficked for sex. “I didn’t expect the number to be this high myself,” said Ami Carpenter, a co-author on the study, “But I’m fully confident in our methods.”

The study has since been used by anti-trafficking groups, such as the Alabaster Jar Project and even the Church of Scientology of San Diego, to make broad, authoritative claims about trafficking in San Diego County. But by April 2016, the Department of Justice had pushed the researchers to revise it significantly; the number of trafficking victims was pared down from an estimated range of 8,830 to 11,773 victims to an estimated range of 3,417 to 8,108 victims. But even the revised-down figure presents its own problems, said Dr. Anthony Marcus, chair of the anthropology department at John Jay College of the City University of New York, who has also conducted DOJ-funded research into trafficking. “Any time the range for a number is that wide — 3,417 to 8,108, much more than 100%,” Marcus told The Appeal, “it raises questions about how well the research can actually answer its own questions.” These limitations did not prevent groups that had coalesced around the issue of trafficking in San Diego to run with the study’s findings of a vast, hidden “industry” worth $810 million per year.

Jamie Gates speaking at an event on human trafficking organized by the San Diego Union-Tribune. This is a map of phone calls to a trafficking hotline.

Like many of her peers in law enforcement who have focused on fighting trafficking with arrests and prosecutions meant to disrupt sex work, Stephan believes there’s no meaningful difference between sex work and trafficking. “Just from being on the ground doing this work for a long time, even those people that tell you they are choosing this life, they were recruited at an early age,” Stephan told the Voice of San Diego earlier this month. “So in my head, you know, how do you really become free if this is all you know when you don’t have [an] education or any other line of work to sustain yourself?”

This view, that women who sell sex are incapable of making their own choices, also extends to San Diego law enforcement’s view of women in the sex trade as trafficking victims. “Most victims will not identify as a victim until they encounter law enforcement between 7–10 times,” Matt Blumenthal, a sergeant with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and a supervisor at the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force (HTTF), wrote in a blog post for the anti-trafficking nonprofit Thorn. Until a “victim” accepted law enforcement intervention, Blumenthal continued, they would also be uncooperative with prosecutors.

Summer Stephan Trafficking Deck

Source document contributed to DocumentCloud by Matt Henry (In Justice Today).

Slides from a presentation Stephan delivered in June 2016.

These prosecutors include Summer Stephan’s office, also a member of the HTTF, whose investigations of suspected trafficking often result in crackdowns on sex work. In June 2016, Stephan touted an operation targeting an online message board featuring advertisements for sex work as a major success in combating trafficking. Yet no trafficking charges were filed. Similarly, the HTTF runs annual prostitution stings dubbed Operation Reclaim and Rebuild that Stephan described as a “wake up call for men who buy sex,” after a March 2018 sting resulted in 29 arrests of men allegedly attempting to buy sex. Stephan’s office said this operation targeted “the demand side of sex trafficking.”

Operation Reclaim & Rebuild News Release SD Version 1 30 18

Source document contributed to DocumentCloud by Melissa Gira Grant (In Justice Today).

Press release announcing the arrests of 29 men for allegedly buying sex

This “end demand” approach, supported by Stephan and groups in San Diego funded by Demand Abolition, is based on the belief that preventing men from buying sex in the first place is necessary in order to end human trafficking. This is why Stephan supported a program called the Cyber Patrol, first created by a Portland-area pastor that recruited volunteers — including current and former police officers — to create fake sex work ads, then inform the men who called for their services that sex workers are mostly trafficking victims. “Cyber Patrol, they are disrupting the demand,” Stephan toldthe San Diego Union-Tribune, “but actually at its core it’s providing accurate information about the damage and the harm that buying does.”

As for actual human trafficking, a category that also includes labor trafficking, prosecutions at Stephan’s office are down to 19 in total for the fiscal year ending in September 2017 from a high of 32 in 2013. As Cyber Patrol and Operation Reclaim and Rebuild demonstrate, what Stephan’s office has focused on instead is targeting men who attempt to buy sex, as well as lobbying for increased penalties for these men.

Stephan has touted her office’s support of new state laws that she says will help people who have been trafficked. The San Diego district attorney’s support of these laws is relatively new, however. In 2016, the office opposed SB 1322, which decriminalized prostitution for minors, joining with other prosecutors in the state, as well as SB 823, which would have vacated past criminal charges of those who were prosecuted while they were being trafficked. But since SB 823 went into effect, the San Diego public defender’s office and Free to Thrive, a local nonprofit that provides legal services to trafficking survivors, told The Appeal they have only been able to clear the records of six individuals.

In a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Stephan acknowledged that her high-profile work on trafficking launched her into the top prosecutor spot once Dumanis announced her resignation. “Victims’ groups, a lot of the human trafficking work that I do, started to say, are you going to be the next DA,” she said. “We now are the gold standard for how you do sex crimes and human trafficking. I get called by other DA offices all the time to try to recreate it.” Prominent Stephan supporters, too, repeatedly tout her trafficking focus. On April 25, San Diego Convention Center Chair Gil Cabrera tweeted that Stephan “has lead [sic] the field” in trafficking.

But in the June 5 election, Stephan faces insurgent candidate Geneviéve Jones-Wright, a longtime public defender who is challenging Stephan’s record on trafficking, requesting cash bail for low-level offenses, advocating for rollbacks of recent criminal justice reforms, and highlighting Stephan’s failures in sexual assault cases. “My opponent’s failed leadership as head of the Sex Crimes Unit created the backlog of thousands of untested rape kits in San Diego County,” Jones-Wright said in March.

In an interview with The Appeal, Jones-Wright was particularly critical of Stephan’s trafficking prosecutions. “I’ll just be very blunt here,” Jones-Wright said, “she’s able to harp on these things because this has been her brand.” Contrary to Stephan’s assertion that sex workers are victims of trafficking, Jones-Wright explained, “there is absolutely the reality of voluntary sex workers, and, to say anything other than that is to be misinformed. So a person who touts herself as a national expert, who sits on all of these commissions couldn’t be more wrong in the field of her expertise. That is dangerous. It’s dangerous for combating human trafficking, it’s dangerous for protecting victims, it is dangerous for actually helping people who are engaged in sex work help law enforcement get the quote-unquote ‘bad guys’ who are abusing people.”

Jones-Wright also blasted Stephan for supporting a new federal law that would make online platforms liable for prostitution-related content, meant to shut down classified ads site Backpage.com but in reality making any website a target. The law’s proponents said it will combat trafficking — Stephan hailed it as ushering in an era when men will no longer “feel the anonymity of just going online and ordering a person like you’re ordering pizza” — but it has already resultedin the closure of websites sex workers rely on for income and safety. Jones-Wright believes that the legislation will make it more difficult to “to actually investigate and know who these people [traffickers] are … I would prefer for them to be on Backpage and Craigslist because we need to know who they are, if they are selling our children.”

Stephan’s representatives did not respond to repeated requests for comment from The Appeal.

Promising tough action against trafficking has helped Stephan garner an image as a progressive leader, even as the “reforms” she supports perpetuate the carceral status quo of criminalizing sex work, while possibly making it more difficult to help the actual victims of trafficking. Even Stephan seems to acknowledge her office’s limits in combating trafficking. “We know we can’t prosecute ourselves out of it,” she said in a 2017 story on San Diego’s “slow but steady progress” in the trafficking fight. Still, she added, “[i]t has to be a war that everyone engages in.”

More in Explainers

How Naming a Drug Operation for a Fallen Trooper Endangers His Alleged Killer’s Fair Trial

Cash, weapons, and drugs seized by Louisiana State Police in an operation named after the unit number of a slain trooper.
Louisiana State Police / Facebook

How Naming a Drug Operation for a Fallen Trooper Endangers His Alleged Killer’s Fair Trial


When Kevin Daigle was set to be tried in late April on first-degree murder charges for allegedly killing a Louisiana state trooper in August 2015, he faced the steepest of odds: Prosecutors in the case decided to seek the death penalty, and juries are prone to deliver death verdicts when the life of a law enforcement officer is taken.

But Daigle’s dilemma deepened in mid-April when the Louisiana State Police (LSP) arrested more than 180 people on drugs and weapons charges and named the operation “D-57” after the unit number of the slain trooper, Steven Vincent. Incredibly, the LSP said in a statement that “Trooper Vincent’s son requested we [would] ‘find a lot of drugs’ if we used his father’s LSP unit number as the operation title, and that’s exactly what resulted.” In photographs released to the media, the LSP displayed the drugs and weapons the agency allegedly seized in the operation, accompanied by a Louisiana license plate that read “D-57.”

The LSP’s arrests were not confined to the Southwest Louisiana parish — Calcasieu — where Vincent was murdered. Instead, the nearly 200 people taken into custody on drugs and weapons charges were from across Louisiana, meaning that news of the operation conducted in the murdered trooper’s name reached nearly every corner of the state.

Why does an anti-drug operation and its attendant publicity matter for Daigle? Because his defense team had already argued that the extraordinary attention surrounding the case — which included near-constant local media coverage and even articles in national publications like USA Today and theNew York Times — would prejudice the Calcasieu Parish jury pool. In 2016, Louisiana 14th Judicial Court judge Guy Bradberry agreed and decided that the jury should be selected from Bossier Parish, about 200 miles away, and then brought to Calcasieu to hear the guilt phase of the trial. Naming the statewide effort “Operation D-57,” then, compounded the problem of a fair and impartial jury for Daigle, who faces execution at the hands of the state of Louisiana.

Courts have recognized the outsized influence that the police can exert on a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Such troubling situations often arise when police make public pretrial statements about the case, pack a courtroom with officers in uniform during trial, or, as here, engage in a massive drug operation that reignites a community’s outrage over a police shooting. Such conduct can violate a defendant’s 14th Amendment due process right to a fair trial. It compromises the person’s right, in other words, to a jury that impartially decides his or her fate based only on the evidence, and not on emotions or preconceived impressions.

Unsurprisingly, on April 27, Daigle’s defense team filed yet another motion to seek a change of venue precisely because of “Operation D-57.” Soon afterward, the Louisiana Supreme Court stayed the trial indefinitely, but did so based on a separate defense motion. The defense sought to recuse Judge Bradberry because of numerous alleged conflicts of interest in the case, including the fact that he and Trooper Vincent’s wife are Facebook friends and that Bradberry or his wife may have “liked” a Facebook post offering prayers for the Vincent family.

Louisiana’s Third Circuit Court of Appeal ultimately ruled that Bradberry will remain on the case and for now it’s unclear when — or where — Daigle’s trial will take place. But the extraordinary publicity surrounding a massive drugs and weapons operation conducted by the state police, all in the name of their fallen trooper, suggests that Daigle’s uphill battle for a fair capital trial might have taken a precipitous and perhaps fatal turn.

More in Podcasts