(CN) - Louisiana's probation authority must face claims that it made a sex offender out of a woman who pleaded guilty only to criminal mischief, an appeals court ruled.
The 12-page opinion emphasizes that woman in question, Meiko Prevo, had an eighth-grade education and that her probation officer, David Phillips, threatened her with arrest and jail on their first meeting if she did not register as a sex offender.
Against her protests, the officer maintained "that according to the State Police and everything that [he] could confirm at that time, she was [a sex offender]," the decision continues.
Prevo had been arrested for the offense of crime against nature in 2000, but she pleaded guilty that year to a reduced charge of criminal mischief.
She met Officer Phillips long after she completed her probation for that misdemeanor charge and received another term of probation in 2008 for distribution of cocaine.
Officer Phillips told Prevo that she would go to jail if she did not register as a sex offender because those two words were stamped at the top of her 2000 "crime against nature" disposition.
Though Prevo's attorney from 2000 explained to the officer that Prevo had pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of criminal mischief, Phillips was unmoved.
Prevo registered as a sex offender in Webster Parish and says Phillips never heeded her requests to look into the matter.
When Prevo failed to reregister in May 2010, authorities tracked her down at her residence and Prevo registered as a sex offender again the next month to avoid jail. Prevo got a new probation officer that fall when Phillips got a promotion.
This new officer immediately investigated Prevo's status when she told him she did not believe she was a sex offender, and he began the process to have her removed from the sex-offender registry in a matter of weeks.
Prevo filed suit in 2011, but the trial judge in Webster agreed with each of the defendants that Prevo had waited too long to sue.
In Louisiana civil law, defendants have what is known as a peremptory exception of prescription for claims like those brought by Prevo.
Prevo claimed on appeal that her one-year window to sue opened only after she was removed from the sex-offender registry.
Louisiana's 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal revived Prevo's claims last week against the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections Division of Probation and Parole.
"Plaintiff's opinions were overridden by a law officer, and his view that she was a sex offender was imposed through threats of arrest and jail," Chief Judge Henry Brown wrote for a three-person majority. "Such misrepresentations by one with authority resulted in the delay by plaintiff in filing her action. Considering plaintiff's limited education, the nature of defendant's conduct and position of authority, we find that plaintiff's action against the DOC should not be barred by prescription."
Judge J. Jay Caraway said that the dismissal of Prevo's claims should have been affirmed entirely.
Prevo "fully understood the impending harm and was not misled and thwarted by the DOC's action from availing herself of her cause of action after her damaging registration occurred," Caraway wrote.
Judge Jeanette G. Garrett echoed this dissent separately, despite saying that "the callous indifference" Officer Phillips exhibited toward Prevo "is appalling."
"However, this record is clear that all of the events which gave rise to the plaintiff's cause of action and caused her damage occurred more than one year prior to the filing of the suit," Garrett wrote.
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