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Amid criticism, panel narrows search for consent decree monitor

8th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

The 10-member panel of City of New Orleans and DOJ officials charged with the task of selecting a federal consent-decree monitor whittled the finalists down from five groups to two last week despite ongoing questions about some of the names listed as members of the various groups vying for the contract and their relationship with the Landrieu administration.

The last two teams standing are Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze and Washington-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton.

Hillard Heintze submitted a $7.2 million bid to become federal monitor of the NOPD consent decree while Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton submitted a $7.9 million bid.

A final choice by the panel is expected by an April 30 deadline. U.S. Judge Susie Morgan, who approved the NOPD consent decree in January, will review the panel’s recommendation before making a final decision on the consent-decree monitor. If the panel cannot make a final recommendation, Judge Morgan will choose from the two finalists.

The panel was scheduled to meet again Tuesday but postponed that meeting and has yet to announce a new meeting date.

A number of community residents expressed concerns last week about individuals on the competing team rosters with ties to the Landrieu administration. The name that seemed to come up most often was the Rev. Charles Southall III, senior pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church, the site of a controversial March 25 meeting hosted by the mayor and police chief on the same night as a community meeting at Christian Unity Baptist Church to discuss racial profiling. Rev. Southall also delivered the benediction at Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 2010 inauguration.

Randolph Scott, a member of Community United for Change, on Tuesday brought up Rev. Southall’s ties to the mayor and how that might impact Hilliard Heintze’s ability to be fair and impartial in its monitoring of the NOPD consent decree.

“I think the Consent Decree is something that is necessary,” Scott told WWL-TV. “We must have the Consent Decree.”

“There is a huge amount of skepticism I think in the community about whether this police department is actually going to reform,” Michael Bromwich, a member of the DC-based Bromwich Group, one of the groups vying last week for a shot at becoming federal monitor of the NOPD consent decree, told WWL-TV Tuesday.

On Wednesday, W.C. Johnson, a member of CUC and host of cable-access show “OurStory,” accused the Landrieu administration of “stacking the deck by placing loyal Landrieu confidants on a monitoring team competing for the contract of federal monitor of the NOPD Consent Decree.

“This is both unethical and illegal,” Johnson added. “If the NOPD cannot get a federal monitor who has no ties or relationships to the political interests of the City of New Orleans, then the reform process for the NOPD is severely wounded at best or mortally wounded at worst. The victims of police terror have invested too much skin in the game to have the Landrieu administration hijack the process with a dog-and- pony show that could derail any progress towards constitutional policing for New Orleans today and in the future.”

Johnson also had sharp words for the mayor, who he accused of trying to use Southall as a Trojan horse of sorts to undermine the effectiveness of the NOPD consent decree should the mayor fail to convince the federal court to vacate the NOPD consent decree.

“Given a group favorable to the mayor, this could very easily allow for the compliance monitor to turn their heads on any questions concerning the Consent Decree which would allow for the police terror to continue under a federal mandated consent decree,” Johnson said.

In other news about the city’s consent-decree woes last week, the war of words between the mayor and sheriff heated up after a controversial video was presented in federal court during a hearing about the OPP consent decree. The mayor has said repeatedly that the video supports his claims that Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman in incapable of turning around the troubled jail while Gusman has accused the mayor of trying to shirk his responsibilities as mayor to foot the bill for OPP reforms.

“That video in 2009 revealed in graphic details the devastating effects of crumbling outdated jail buildings that are lacking in modern measures,” Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said Thursday.

The videos, apparently made four years ago at the now-shuttered House of Detention, show inmates drinking beer, shooting heroin, snorting a white powder substance, shooting dice and even displaying a loaded gun. There is also video footage that shows an OPP inmate who is supposed to be in jail roaming the French Quarter.

“That is exactly why I closed that building last year and began phasing it out before Hurricane Katrina.” Gusman said after Tuesday’s presentation of the video footage during hearing on the OPP consent decree at the federal courthouse.

Gusman told reporters that when his office discovered the videos a few years ago, there was an investigation.

“I don’t know what the motivations were behind all of that, but we didn’t find anything. There was no harm. There was no contraband found. We searched, we strip-searched the inmates, we shook down the cells twice, so that’s all we had,” Gusman said.

Gusman brushed aside criticism from the mayor and others including the Southern Poverty Law Center about what some have described as deplorable living conditions.

“A lot of them don’t like to sleep on the beds. They sleep on the floors. But look, that chapter is closed. That building is closed. We are never going to open it again,” Gusman said.

“It’s not something we’re unaware of. The question gets to be who’s responsibility was it. The sheriff is the keeper of the jail.” Mayor Landrieu told FOX 8 News.

Landrieu, who has been publicly sparring with Gusman for months, said the videos underscore why the Feds need to take over efforts to reform Orleans Parish Prison.

“If something is going to be fixed, one of our processes has been, we’re not going to throw money into a system that doesn’t work,” Landrieu said. “You have to reform the system. You have to reform management practices.”

“The mayor chooses to waste time with Washington-style politics and Archie Bunker rhetoric,” Gusman fired back at Landrieu.

FOX 8 News reported that Landrieu issued a statement Thursday evening after Gusman spoke with the media. “This week, expert after expert talked about mismanagement and said this was one of the worst-run jails in the country,” Landrieu said.

“Look, I’m not going to respond to paid experts that are getting paid to come up with a statement. I’m here. I’m elected and I’m doing the job,” Gusman said.

Landrieu also said in his statement that the Sheriff’s Office is not keeping the prison secure and the city safe.

The mayor is asking for a federal receiver to come in and run the jail and has suggested that it is not his responsibility as mayor to pay for OPP reforms although state law clearly says it is the duty of the City of New Orleans to do so.

*Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the April 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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