NPAP's New Legal Head To Take On Law Enforcement Reform

By Marco Poggio | January 10, 2021, 8:02 PM EST

Lauren Bonds
Lauren Bonds
National Police Accountability Project, a nationwide advocacy group supporting legislation aimed at curtailing police violence, has tapped the ACLU of Kansas' top lawyer as the first legal director in its history.

Lauren Bonds, a lawyer with extensive employment and civil rights litigation experience, will lead NPAP through its ambitious efforts at reforming the system of accountability of law enforcement across the country, the organization announced Jan. 5.

In an interview with Law360, Bond said she is excited about the opportunity to work with NPAP.

The lack of accountability for police officers, particularly when it comes to their encounters with people of color, has been the driving force behind her legal career, she said.

"I don't think that there is a more important or exciting place you could be working as a civil rights lawyer right now," Bonds said.

In her position, she will be directing the legal arm of an organization that counts over 500 members deployed all over the United States. Her first priority will be to give those members the support they need to fight the good fight, she said.

"I want to make sure that, whatever we are doing, it's going to be helpful to the attorneys out there who are in the streets, who are in the trenches bringing these cases," Bonds said.

NPAP has existed since 1999, where it began as an offshoot of the National Lawyers Guild, which was founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated bar association in the county.

However, the organization's profile didn't rise until last summer, said Rachel Pickens, the nonprofit's executive director, when the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked outrage that reverberated across the nation, prompting calls for police reform from across the political spectrum.

"I know there's no going back to before the summer of 2020," Pickens said. "Having Lauren helping other activists, organizers and attorneys in various parts of the country to lead the effort to create change will be a monumental step for us."

Pickens said Bonds is the right person to lead NPAP in its role of advocating for victims of police brutality while informing new legislation.

"Lauren is going to be a fantastic asset at NPAP. She has the experience we need. I feel that she has the skill set, both professionally and personally, that we can really work with our various partners and coalitions and communities to push for genuine reform, and fight for reform," Pickens said.

The change in administration and the shift of power in the Senate, she hopes, will create opportunities for reforming the legal landscape around police accountability. Bonds comes in at the right time, Pickens said, and her background positions her well for the job. Bonds will expand NPAP's work while keeping the grassroots connections she developed in her career as a civil rights attorney, and bringing them to fruition, Pickens said.

Bonds will work on drafting legislation and position papers, and direct NPAP in its advisory role in lawmaking, meeting with legislators and providing testimony before local, state, and federal legislatures, the organization said.

Bonds mentioned the doctrine of qualified immunity as a legal area in dire need of reform. She said she hopes to build on the momentum spurred by Floyd's death to bring about necessary change. At the federal level, she said, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 is paving the way for more accountability of police: lower standards for criminal prosecution of police officers who engage in misconduct, the institution of a national registry of police misconduct, limits to qualified immunity, and subpoena power to the U.S. Department of Justice in investigations of police departments with a pattern of discrimination.

Bonds will also focus on state legislation, she said.

"I think that there is an incredible opportunity for legislative changes both at the federal level and state level," Bonds said.

A Duke University alumna, Bonds racked up litigation experience representing low-income workers in employment and civil rights lawsuits, including voting rights cases in Alabama and North Carolina, according to her profile page on the ACLU's website. She also served as assistant general counsel of the Service Employees International Union, advising the union on mass actions, and litigating civil cases in federal courts and before federal agencies.

As a legal director at the ACLU of Kansas, Bonds experienced firsthand the challenges of representing the underprivileged, often minorities, "people who are kind of at the margins of society," Davids in a world of Goliaths, she said. During her tenure at the ACLU, she litigated civil rights cases involving criminal justice, voting rights and First Amendment issues, while yielding her legal expertise to civil rights activists.

"Having had the opportunity to do this work where it's hard to do this work, and where we have hostile courts and at times hostile public perception, I think that was a very growing experience that will help me in my new position," she said.
 
--Editing by Katherine Rautenberg.

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