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The Southern Poverty Law Center has filed suit against the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office (JPSO), asking a judge to force Sheriff Joseph Lopinto to respond to a public records request the nonprofit has made seeking information on the death of Modesto Reyes on May 27, 2020.   

A public records request was filed in the summer of 2020 seeking data on officer-involved injuries and internal affairs records regarding citizens’ complaints made against officers from 2010 to 2020. The Sheriff’s Office has refused to comply with that request, claiming the data sought does not exist and that certain records were only accessible for the past three years. The Sheriff’s office also claimed seeing records of internal affairs rises to an “invasion of privacy.”  

Despite multiple revisions to the request, it continues to be denied outright, with the Sheriff’s Office now claiming SPLC must pay $2,300 before it can hand over some of the requested documents, an excessive amount that also places the records out of reach of most members of the public.   

According to a story on the lawsuit written by Kathryn Casteel of the Southern Poverty Law Center:   “The nonprofit began investigating misconduct by JPSO deputies after Reyes’s death and found at least 30 federal civil lawsuits filed against the department since 2010; many for excessive force and some for illegal use of deadly force or wrongful death. We know these findings are not all inclusive. They don’t include incidents that occurred during this time that did not result in federal civil lawsuits. We needed more information if we wanted a fuller picture.”  

Lopinto claimed officers opened fire because Reyes, 35, allegedly pointed two firearms at the officers.  JPSO deputies, however, don’t wear body cameras and the only footage of the incident is eight seconds of video from a Taser.

The sheriff’s office never allowed Reyes’s family to see the footage, but it showed the clip to the media, which reported that the video appeared to show a man face down, rolling onto his back and holding two firearms.   

An independent autopsy determined Reyes was shot twice in the back.