Eastern District of Louisiana - History
The United States Marshals Service, Eastern District of Louisiana, is one of the oldest and most unique districts in the United States. The Territory of Orleans, established by Congress on October 1, 1804, was the only territory granted a District Court equal in authority and jurisdiction to that of the District Courts in the states. On April 30, 1812 the territory became Louisiana when it was admitted as the nation’s 18th state. Shortly, thereafter, President James Madison appointed the first United States Marshal, Peter L. B. Duplessis.
Marshal Duplessis played a pivotal role in governmental affairs as there were always competing political factions within New Orleans - not to mention the presence of French Pirate Jean Lafitte and his band of sailing men. Lafitte, known as the “Gentleman Pirate,” was conducting a smuggling and piracy operation in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. Frustrated by Lafitte, the United States Attorney charged Marshal Duplessis with locating and arresting Lafitte and his band of pirates in an effort to bring them to trial. Duplessis received the official writ on April 19, 1813, which read: “You are hereby commanded ...that you take the body of Jean Lafitte so that he appear before the District Court of the United States for the Louisiana District — to be holden at the City of New Orleans ... to answer to the complaint of the United States and that he do file his defense or answer with the Clerk of said Court.”
While the United States Attorney was interested in disrupting Lafitte’s smuggling operation, southern coastal waters were reportedly brimming with English warships. To better monitor enemy forces, Marshal Duplessis traveled to Pensacola, Florida where he witnessed the British naval contingent performing maneuvers off the coast and preparing for battle. The Marshal proved invaluable to United States General Andrew Jackson when he used his Creole connections to smuggle a letter to Jackson dated October 17, 1814 detailing the intelligence he collected while in Pensacola. The letter stated that the British fleet planned to invade and seize New Orleans and the vast territory of the United States acquired with the Louisiana Purchase. Once back in New Orleans, the Marshal continued to aid the general throughout the war.
General Jackson, occupied by the impending Battle of New Orleans and an insufficient military force, accepted an offer from Lafitte for his services to fight the British in exchange for a pardon for him and his band of pirates. The pardon was granted. The actions of Lafitte during the Battle resulted in his becoming a war hero in the defense of New Orleans in 1815. The Battle was a decisive battle for the United States against the British and her allies and is regarded as the greatest American land victory of the war.
Another defining moment in the history of the U.S. Marshals in New Orleans occurred almost 150 years later when a federal court ordered the desegregation of schools in the South. U.S. Marshals escorted four young black girls, Leona Tate, Gaile Etienne, Tessie Prevost and Ruby Bridges, to school on November 14, 1960, in the midst of racial tension and violence. These girls were the first black children to enter all-white schools in the history of the American South. The girls attended school with U.S. Marshals by their side for over a year.
In 2005 the U.S. Marshals in New Orleans responded to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most catastrophic natural disasters in United States history. The U.S. Marshals established a task force made up of deputies and administrative personnel from all over the United States. Beginning after the storm, the task force conducted search and rescue missions, assisted local authorities with restoring order and patrolling the streets of New Orleans, provided protection of airports, fuel trucks, FEMA workers and the NASA Stennis Space Center, and provided armed escorts to supply convoys delivering food and water to residents.
In addition, the U.S. Marshals established a judicial operations team that assisted local and state governments as they prepared to reestablish operations in their courthouses which were devastated by the hurricane. The team protected the City of New Orleans, parish and state courts while operations were held at the federal courthouse for over nine months.
As a result of large numbers of migrant workers descending on New Orleans after the hurricane, fugitive apprehension efforts increased. The success of the task force led to the formal establishment of a U.S. Marshals Task Force comprised of local, state and federal law enforcement officers that continues to today. This extremely successful and well decorated task force continues to apprehend an average of over 800 violent fugitives each year. Task Force partners include the New Orleans Police Department, Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, Kenner Police Department, Slidell Police Department, Louisiana State Police, Louisiana Probation and Parole, and the United States Border Patrol.
From 1845 until 1971, the District of Louisiana was reorganized numerous times under single and multiple districts. In 1971, the Eastern District was finally reorganized to the structure that remains today, thirteen parishes in the southeastern geography of the state. Two-thirds of the state’s citizens reside in this area and the state’s largest city, New Orleans, is located here.
The dedication and exceptional work ethic of District employees resulted in the District receiving the USMS Director’s Distinguished District Award in 2006 and 2010, the Distinguished Group Award in 2008 and 2009, the 2011 Metropolitan Crime Commission Excellence in Law Enforcement Award, the 2012 Sheriff Harry Lee Crimestoppers Criminal Justice Award, the Lexis Nexis “One Step Closer” Award presented by the International Homicide Investigator’s Association and numerous other awards and recognition for its fugitive apprehension efforts. In 2013, the District received the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award for support of the Guard and Reserve. The Eastern District of Louisiana was the first federal law enforcement agency to receive this recognition.
The United States Marshals in the Eastern District of Louisiana continue to perform a critical service to the safety of the judiciary and community, carrying on the traditions established by U.S. Marshal Peter Duplessis and those who followed.