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Rastafarian Man Seeking Damages From Louisiana Jail For Violation Of Religious Practice After Forcibly Shaving His Head

By Carmen Roxanna (Cottonport, LA) – Rastafarian Louisiana resident Damon Landor is appealing a court ruling that rejects his entitlement to monetary compensation after his head was forcibly shaved at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, in December 2020 and in direct violation of his freedom of religion. The appeal focuses on whether monetary damages are possible in lawsuits against state officials under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects the religious rights of inmates.

New Orleans law firm Casey Denson Law and New York law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges are representing former inmate Landor in the lawsuit which names the State Department of Corrections, DOC Secretary James Le Blanc, Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, Warden Marcus Myers and others, according to The Advocate. US District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge dismissed Landor’s case in September, writing his claims lapsed after his 2021 release from prison. She also wrote that the law in question “does not allow for a private action for compensatory or punitive damages. ”

Denson said in a written statement that it “has been the law for years, clearly stated, that the state’s prisons cannot blindly apply their grooming policies to justify cutting the hair of Rastafarian inmates.” She continued, “Louisiana citizens are proud of their right to freedom of religion. Despite this, what many people don’t realize is that the state of Louisiana has a tremendous disregard for the religious beliefs of its inmates. Damon Landor and other Rastafarians had their hair cut as part of an unconstitutional practice that is a cruel attempt to strip them of their dignity and their deepest beliefs.” Landor is a practicing Rastafari and adheres to the Nazarite vow, which forbids the cutting of hair, amongst other forbidden acts. Consistent with his faith, Landor has not cut his hair for almost twenty years.

Before arriving at RLCC, Landor had been incarcerated at St. Tammany Parish Detention Center and later at LaSalle Correctional Center in Olla. According to his complaint, although temporarily banned at LaSalle for refusing to cut his hair on one occasion, officials at both institutions did not force him to do so. Administrators at both facilities allowed Landor to wear a ‘rastacap’ (also called a rasta ‘crown’) to hold his locs, which were knee-length when he arrived at the RLCC in late December 2020. He claims his request for religious accommodation was ignored upon arrival at the facility. At RLCC, “Landor was forcibly seated in a chair, handcuffed to the chair, and held down by two prison officers while another individual, who appeared to be a fellow inmate, proceeded to shave the plaintiff’s hair, completely trim his locks, and hold him to shave completely bald”, the complaint says.

Landor recently stated what happened to him was “completely pointless.” “Nevertheless, Laborde prison officials insisted on scarring and humiliating me on the way out. I brought this case to hold them accountable and to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone – in Louisiana or anywhere else.”

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