Beauregard Parish Building and Grounds supervisor Gary Crowe demonstrates the wheelchair lift in the parish courthouse basement that people with limited mobility must use to access the other two floors. The lift is faulty and only works sporadically. (American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 12:33 PM
DERIDDER — A court date has not been set in the case filed by a Merryville resident against the Beauregard Parish Police Jury about access issues at the parish courthouse.
The suit was filed March 29 by Daniel Douglas. According to the suit, Douglas uses a motorized wheelchair and a walker due to injuries he suffered in an automobile accident and a subsequent stroke.
Court papers say that on March 14, Douglas tried to attend a scheduled proceeding in the upstairs courtroom. The courthouse does not have an elevator and, the lawsuit says, on March 14 the courthouse’s chair lift was inoperable.
State law requires the Police Jury to maintain all parish-owned buildings. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires local government entities to provide the disabled with physical access to all programs; lack of accessibility can be considered illegal discrimination.
According to records filed in 36th Judicial District Court, Judges C. Kerry Anderson and Martha O’Neal have recused themselves from the case. The state Supreme Court has appointed an out-of-parish judge, H. Ward Fontenot.
A legal response to the lawsuit has not yet been filed by the Police Jury, according to records.
In the suit, Douglas alleges that he suffered “inconvenience, embarrassment, expense and mental anguish over his inaccessibility of the court.”
“In order to communicate with him regarding this matter and seek his permission for a continuance as well as provide him court dates, his attorney, as well as his spouse, had to travel repeatedly from the second-floor courtroom into the basement where he was forced to remain, leaving him feeling helpless in his own cause. Due to this issue, everyone in the courtroom was made aware of his situation,” the papers read.
“Further, the inaction and/or omission of the Beauregard Parish Police Jury has resulted in discrimination against Daniel Douglas, which he is entitled to protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The suit also outlines other accessibility problems with the courthouse, including the lack of public restrooms and the restrooms’ inaccessibility to the disabled. The suit notes that the courthouse’s chair lift is 22 years old and often inoperable.
“The Beauregard Parish Police Jury has ignored the complaints of residents for years despite being placed on notice of numerous problems that employees, persons hailed to court and visitors with disabilities were having at the facility, and the failure of the courthouse public facility to meet various state and federal requirements for accessibility,” the suit reads.