Bobby Sneed, shortly after the May 2021 vote to deny his parole.

Bobby Sneed, a 74-year-old Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola prisoner who had his previously granted parole stripped by a state board in May, has filed a petition in state court arguing that he is being held in prison illegally. 

Lawyers for Sneed allege that the parole board violated state and federal law when they stripped his parole after accusing him of using drugs while incarcerated, even though the prison’s own disciplinary board cleared him of the charges. The petition says that the board violated open meetings laws and did not take the required steps under state law to revoke Sneed’s parole. It also argues that it was vindictively motivated in order to get back at Sneed for speaking out in the press regarding his situation, in violation of Sneed’s first amendment rights.

“For the purpose of retaliating against Mr. Sneed and perhaps to make him an example for future candidates for parole, in a rush to literally put Mr. Sneed ‘back in his box’ and condemn an elderly man to death in prison, the parole board blatantly disregarded its own procedures, violating both state and federal law,” the petition reads. 

Lawyers for Sneed filed an initial petition that named just Angola Warden Tim Hooper as a respondent last month in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge. Last week they filed an updated petition including the Louisiana Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole and its executive director, Francis Abbott, as respondents as well.   

A spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections declined to comment on the petition, calling it a “Parole Board matter.” Abbott declined to comment, saying he had not yet been served in the case. 

The allegations in the petition mirror those put forward in a previous federal civil rights suit Sneed filed weeks after his parole was stripped. That suit was dismissed without prejudice in July. Judge John deGravelles of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge said that while he found the allegations in the complaint “extremely troubling,” legal precedent barred them from being heard in federal court.

After 47 years in prison, Sneed had been unanimously granted parole in March, and was just days from his scheduled release when he collapsed at Angola and was taken to a nearby hospital. He was treated for pneumonia, hypoxia, post-cardiac arrest and COVID-19. At some point, prison officials also administered a drug test, which eventually came back positive for amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Instead of being released, Sneed was brought back to Angola from the hospital and held in administrative segregation for several weeks awaiting a disciplinary hearing on a contraband charge. 

Emails recently obtained by Sneed’s attorneys and included in the filing show that Francis Abbott instructed a member of his staff to “hold off on any paperwork” related to Sneed’s release the day after Sneed collapsed. 

The petition says that the email shows that “Mr. Abbott—without any legal authority to personally halt Mr. Sneed’s release—personally ordered the unlawful (over)detention of Mr. Sneed.” 

The disciplinary hearing related to Sneed’s contraband charge took place in early May. It was conducted in private, but according to the recently filed petition, Sneed’s lawyer presented evidence at the hearing that prison staff  “(1) fraudulently altered their ‘ToxCup’ forms in Mr. Sneed’s case; (2) mishandled the urine samples before they were sent to an outside laboratory; and (3) had no idea how, when, or if the purported urine sample was obtained from an unconscious Mr. Sneed.”

Following a brief deliberation, the disciplinary board found Sneed not guilty of the contraband charge. At the same time, they added a new disciplinary charge for being in the wrong dorm at the time he collapsed — but that too was dropped, this time without a hearing, shortly after it was announced.

Still, despite being cleared of all disciplinary charges, a member of the parole board — Tony Marabella — moved to rescind Sneed’s parole, and another hearing was scheduled for the following week. 

According to their policy, the parole board can rescind a decision “upon notification by the Secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections that an offender has violated the terms of the decision granted by the board or has engaged in misconduct prior to the offender’s release.” The prisoner is then given a new hearing.

But Sneed’s petition alleges that the policy was ignored, and no such notification from DOC Secretary James LeBlanc was given to the parole board. 

The lawsuit also claims that the board violated Louisiana’s open meetings law by not providing sufficient notice prior to the hearing. According to the petition, Louisiana law requires that the 24 hour advance notice of a public meeting — not including weekends, holidays, nor the day that it was announced. Sneed’s attorney was given notice on Friday morning for the parole hearing scheduled to be held the next Monday, meaning the required advance notice period did not start to run until after Sneed’s hearing had already taken place, the petition argues. 

In addition, it argues that despite parole board policy,the Committee on Parole does not have the authority under state law to “rescind” a prisoner’s parole after it has been granted. Instead, the petition argues, they can only “revoke” parole, which has more stringent due process requirements.

“Mr. Sneed’s parole was not ‘rescinded’ because the concept of ‘rescinding’ parole is unknown under Louisiana law,” the petition reads. “There is literally not a single appellate case, state or federal, affirming that the Louisiana parole board can ‘rescind’ a previous grant of parole (and, of course, not a single one suggesting they can do so after the prisoner’s release date has come and gone more than a month earlier).”

Sneed’s lawyer, Thomas Frampton, did not have an opportunity to meet with Sneed prior to the hearing, which took place over his objections on May 5. The parole board claimed that it had information suggesting that Sneed admitted to using drugs after he was taken to the hospital  — though it did not present any evidence nor call any witnesses, and Frampton claimed he had be denied access to any of his medical records. 

(Following the hearing, Frampton says he was able to speak with Sneed’s “attending physician” at the hospital, who said she did not recall Sneed making any admission of drug use during his stay.)

Still, the board voted unanimously to rescind Sneed’s parole, and he has remained in prison ever since.  

According to Justin Schmidt, a lawyer representing Sneed, there is a hearing on Sneed’s petition scheduled for next week. 

Nicholas Chrastil

Nicholas Chrastil covers criminal justice for The Lens. As a freelancer, his work has appeared in Slate, Undark, Mother Jones, and the Atavist, among other outlets. Chrastil has a master's degree in mass...