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CUC files a Notice of Appeal in NOPD consent-decree case

29th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

Community United for Change, one of four groups seeking to gain a seat at the table in the consent-decree proposal regarding reform of the much-maligned New Orleans Police Department, on Wednesday became the second of the four groups to file a Notice of Appeal in U.S. Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans.

The group, which filed the notice with an eye on this week’s deadline for doing so, held a press conference and spoke to the media about its reasons for doing so.

CUC attorney Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday that last week’s filing was made necessary by a fast-approaching deadline and the urgency of the need for change in the way the police department conducts business in New Orleans.

“Members of Community United for Change, including Randolph Scott, Malcolm Suber and W.C. Johnson, and others in the community have been working on this stuff for 20, 30 and 40 years,” Quigley told The Louisiana Weekly. “And they are convinced — and I think rightfully so — that this is the last, big chance for us as a community to be able to transform the police department into something that really respects people’s rights and really operates in an honest and lawful fashion.

“They invited the DOJ in even before Mayor Landrieu, they were involved in all of the investigations and they really support the findings of the Department of Justice,” Quigley added. “But those findings are not matched by the proposed consent decree, which we think is far too weak and does not have much of a chance to really transform the police department.”

Asked by The Louisiana Weekly if the consent decree proposal handed to the NOPD is comparable to a cancer patient being simply given a bottle of aspirin and told to “get better,” Quigley didn’t mince his words.

“It’s not about a couple of bad apples — it’s a bad orchard,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “It’s not just trimming the trees — it’s really digging up the trees and starting over. That takes some time and some fundamental reworking of the whole concept.”

While Quigley called the NOPD reforms that took place under the administration of former NOPD police chief Richard Pennington “a temporary step forward” he added that the “institution of the NOPD proved to be stronger than the ability of one person to be able to reform.

“We’ve seen in the last 10 years or so that any steps forward were erased by multiple steps backwards,” he added. “We need not only a good chief and a strong force but a change of culture. A move away from a culture of corruption.

“A culture of corruption does not just mean that everybody takes money,” Quigley said. “But it means that people are quiet when they know that other people are doing bad, it means that people turn the other way when they know that police officers are doing things that are illegal and even the good police officers are corrupted by all of the bad police officers that are around him.

“So Pennington advanced the ball 10 yards but in subsequent years corruption took the ball back and advanced most of the way down the field,” Quigley said.

“We’re calling for citizen oversight and we’re calling for the police on their person to have audio and video so that we know exactly what they said, what they did,” CUC member Malcolm Suber, who was called to give testimony in federal court, told FOX 8 News in late September.

Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson has complained repeatedly that in its current form the 124-page consent decree proposal strips her office of its ponders and renders it useless. Lawyers for the Police Association of New Orleans and the Fraternal Order of Police have said the proposal may strip police officers of some of their rights which are protected by the Civil Service Commission and make them more vulnerable on the job by placing greater scrutiny and restrictions on the use of force by an officer.

Community United for Change member and host of local cable-access show “OurStory” W.C. John­son has heaped praise on the U.S. Department of Justice report on the systemic problems it found in the New Orleans Police Department but was very disappointed by the DOJ’s failure to prescribe an adequate remedy for the ills it so aptly described in the report.

The previously mentioned FOX 8 story, during which a legal analyst suggested that one or more of the groups that intervened were “John­ny-come-latelys, has reportedly led to a meeting between management at WVUE FOX 8 News and members of Community for Chan­ge.

It all started with an off-the-cuff remark by an attorney who casually criticized unnamed parties who sought to intervene in the consent-decree proposal in a September story.

Sounding more like an advocate with a horse in the race than an attorney lending his expertise to the media, FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti said in late September that at some point the NOPD consent decree must be approved.

“Some people would say it kind of sounds like people sitting in a restaurant and when the gumbo’s coming trying to argue how much seafood to put in it. It’s a little late in the game for it, it would appear, because everybody’s been pounding this thing out for years and now that they finally have, somebody still wants to change it,” Raspanti said.

Raspanti said, given what is at stake, the city has a vested interest in getting court approval sooner than later. “If you keep pushing the envelope they’re going to take the control away from us and it’s going to be a federally mandated thing, controlled by people not from here,” Raspanti added.

Despite criticism from all four groups seeking to intervene in the consent decree, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan at the late September hearing that if approved in its present form “will make the city safer for everyone.” Morgan did tell attorneys representing the four groups that she will not rubber-stamp the consent decree and that she will not approve it at all if it is “a product of collusion.”

“The judge has not yet actually approved the consent decree so she could change her mind about what’s in it or who should be in it, but time was running out so we had to final an appeal,” Bill Quigley told The Louisiana Weekly Friday.

“Other than the power of elected officials and the Justice Depart­ment, there has to be strong community component where the community has a real voice and some real power as a partner in this,” he added. “We have seen some partnerships between the City and the Justice Department in the past, and no matter how well-intentioned they just haven’t done the job.”

This article originally published in the October 29, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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