Vincent Simmons was originally convicted for the attempted aggravated rape of white teenage sisters in 1977. He was sentenced to consecutive, 50-year prison terms.
Simmons had served 44 years in jail before his conviction was overturned earlier this year by a judge who said evidence in his favor was withheld during trial.
Now a free man, Simmons has filed a lawsuit alleging that Avoyelles Parish prosecutors and sheriff’s office officials framed him as part of a coverup for a white man who had connections with police.
According to the lawsuit, Keith Laborde, son of the assessor of Avoyelles Parish and cousin of the sisters, had sexually molested one of them. Robert Laborde, the sheriff deputy who arrested Simmons, was also a relative of the Labordes and the sisters.
"Two of the defendants in this case, with powerful positions as parish assessor and deputy sheriff, were named Laborde, and with family honor at stake, they collaborated under color of law with their fellow officers to ensure that Simmons was put away," the lawsuit alleges.
"Robert Laborde processed Simmons, pressured Simmons to confess, and physically assaulted and indeed shot Simmons when he refused to admit guilt," the suit adds.
The sisters identified Simmons as their rapist in a lineup, but reportedly one of the sisters said during a police interview that “all blacks look alike."
The suit adds that evidence of one of the sisters' hymens being uninjured and other key information was withheld during Simmons' trial.
"This was rural Louisiana in a different time, not long after Jim Crow. The Parish of Avoyelles was still segregated in all but name, and an accusation that a Black man had raped two teenage white girls triggered the deep-seated 'rape myth' which was foundational to Jim Crow culture," the suit says. "Once the accusation was made, a conviction had to be secured, no matter the cost — and one was."
Through the suit, Simmons is seeking damages and a jury trial.