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Suit Against D.A. Who Used Fake Subpoenas To Put Victims In Jail Kicks Off Civil Rights Battle
Thu, Oct. 19, 2017
WASHINGTON ― Renata Singleton is a black woman who spent five days in a New Orleans jail because she couldn’t afford her bail. Away from her three children, she lost eight pounds before her mother was finally able to purchase her release.
When Singleton got home, she had an 8 p.m. curfew and started wearing bell-bottom jeans to hide the electronic monitor on her ankle from her kids. Despite having a master’s degree in business administration, she’s worried she’ll have trouble finding a new job: Her mug shot and a record of her arrest are still floating around online.
None of those facts make Singleton’s story extraordinarily noteworthy: Legally innocent defendants unable purchase their freedom ahead of trial are regularly locked up. Here’s what does: Singleton wasn’t accused of a crime. She was the victim of one.
About three years ago, in November 2014, Singleton got into an argument with her boyfriend. He shattered her phone. Her daughter called the police. The boyfriend was arrested.
Singleton’s ex-boyfriend was able to pay a $3,500 secured bond at his arraignment the next day, and he was released. He later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to probation without jail time.
Singleton, the victim in the case, didn’t have such an easy go of it. When a victim-witness advocate for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office reached out to her, Singleton said she wasn’t interested in pursuing charges. She had a job that paid by the hour, and she didn’t want to miss out on work or time with her kids. She’d broken up with the man. She was ready to move on.
Prosecutors didn’t let her let it go. According to a lawsuit filed Tuesday against Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and others in his office, investigators drafted up “subpoenas” requiring Singleton to appear for a meeting at the district attorney’s office in April 2015, when the case against her ex-boyfriend was still pending.
Those documents were not actually subpoenas ― but the district attorney’s office misleadingly labeled them as such to compel Singleton to show up to a meeting. Singleton didn’t know that at the time, but she didn’t go to the meeting because a friend in law enforcement told her that she hadn’t been validly served.
The day Singleton missed the meeting, an assistant district attorney applied for a material witness warrant, asking the court to jail Singleton. Believing the fake subpoenas were actual subpoenas, a judge issued the arrest warrant.
Singleton eventually met with prosecutors, but told them she wouldn’t talk to them without a lawyer present. Rather than granting her access to a lawyer, prosecutors had Singleton led out of their office in handcuffs, and she was arrested on the warrant.
It was the first time Singleton had ever been arrested. She was taken to jail and forced into an orange jumpsuit. Her bail was $100,000 ― more than 28 times the bail amount set for her alleged abuser. She spent five days in jail before she went before a judge, who reduced her bail to an amount her mother could afford.
Singleton is now the main named plaintiff in a lawsuit against Cannizzaro and his office that alleges that his prosecutors “routinely issue their own fabricated subpoenas directly from the District Attorney’s Office ― without any judicial approval or oversight ― in order to coerce victims and witnesses into submitting to interrogations by prosecutors outside of court.”