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Drama rolls on as NOPD and OPP consent decrees loom

24th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

The seemingly never-ending saga of the NOPD and OPP consent decrees continued to roll on last as residents and civil rights groups await a federal judge’s decision regarding a federal NOPD consent-decree monitor, the Landrieu administration continues to seek a way to vacate or weaken both consent decrees and the mayor and OPP sheriff continue to grapple over the cost and need for immediate, drastic changes at Orleans Parish Prison.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, authored a bill during this summer’s legislative session aimed at promoting transparency and accountability for the newly established CNO Office of Police Secondary Employment (OPSE), the unit charged with the task of regulating and monitoring the NOPD detail system. The bill, SB159, was passed by the Senate Judiciary and House Municipal Committees and unanimously passed in the Louisiana Senate and House earlier this summer.

It comes two years after a scathing Department of Justice report on the NOPD which described the department’s paid-detail system as an “aorta of corruption.”

According to Morrell, the bill establishes procedures for contact between the OPSE and the NOPD, including requiring the two entities maintain publically-accessible, written communication to promote transparency and snuff out corruption. Additionally, the bill enlists the aid of the Office of the Independent Police Monitor in the oversight of the OPSE, further increasing accountability to promote public confidence in the future of the detail system.

The bill was signed into law on June 4.

In a Monday, June 17, Memo­randum to U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, the Landrieu administration told the Court that the new law will “impede the City’s efforts to implement certain provisions of the New Orleans Police Department Consent Decree, particularly provisions related to the establishment of the Office of Police Secondary Employment (“OPSE”).”

“This new law prohibits the director of the OPSE, and his employees, from communicating with the NOPD during this critical period in which the OPSE is being established, policies are being implemented, and NOPD outreach is imperative,” City Attorney Sharonda R. Williams told Judge Morgan in the June 17 Memorandum. “The OPSE director, in his efforts to establish an office and system that comply with the Consent Decree, has routinely met with NOPD and engaged in weekly outreach meetings to educate officers about the new OPSE system and to implement new policies. These discussions are not related to assignments of secondary employment, but are related to creation and implementation of policy. The effectiveness of those important meetings and efforts is greatly limited because OPSE cannot participate in important discussions regarding policy. The City seeks the Court’s guidance on how the OPSE director should proceed under this newly imposed legal restriction.

“Further, the City will be unable to comply with several provisions of the Consent Decree in light of Act 94,” Williams added.

Williams ends the Memorandum by telling Morgan, “Act 94 prohibits the OPSE from having any communications with the NOPD that are unrelated to actual secondary employment assignments,” Williams wrote. “Act 94 essentially strips the City of its ability to effectively establish the secondary employment office that the Consent Decree requires. In fact, as written, Act 94 can be interpreted to prohibit any employee of the OPSE from contacting the NOPD even on any personal matter, such as reporting a crime or lodging a citizen complaint. Act 94 simply is too broad, and the City seeks this Court’s guidance on this issue.

“The Fifth Circuit lifted the stay in this case, and the City must proceed with complying with the Consent Decree while its appeal is pending,” Williams continued. “The City recognizes that Act 94 has not been challenged in state court. In light of the time limitations imposed by the Consent Decree, the City, however, seeks this Court’s guidance on this issue. “When a state’s highest court has not decided an issue involving the application of state law, ‘it is the duty of the federal court to determine, as best it can, what the highest court of the state would decide.’” Verdine v. Ensco Offshore, Co., 255 F.3d 246, 252 (5th Cir. 2001).

“Accordingly, the City requests that this Court consider Act 94 and the terms of the Consent Decree and issue an order instructing the City how to proceed with regard to the OPSE issue,” Williams wrote. “Such consideration is important to the City’s ongoing efforts to reform the NOPD.

State Sen. Morrell told the media in a statement last week that the bill was drafted with the impending NOPD consent decree in mind and drafted with the intent to further enhance the transparency required by the existing decree. It was specifically drafted to not conflict with this important measure, Morrell stressed.

“Act 94 was drafted with the intent of adding additional requirements for transparency and to work hand in hand with the consent decree,” Morrell said in a statement Tuesday. “I have requested that Senate counsel draft an Amicus brief explaining to (U.S. District) Judge (Susie) Morgan the aforementioned intent of the legislation as reflected by unanimous passage in both Houses of the legislature.

“I look forward to Judge Morgan’s ruling on this issue,” Morrell added. “As this is a pending legal matter, I will have further comment after Judge Morgan’s ruling.”

Sen. Morrell, who has two siblings who are NOPD officers, said that he became concerned about the detail system after the Landrieu administration refused to answer his questions about the OPSE and its policies as well as questions about exceptions to the newly implemented rules based on an officer’s ranking and the type of work.

Morrell told nola.com last week that he is not impressed with the Landrieu administration’s attack on Act. 94 “It is probably the most far-fetched and laziest interpretation of any legislation I’ve ever seen as a legislator,” Morrell said.

In a letter dated June 7, Councilwoman Stacy Head told Judge Morgan that she has received conflicting information from CNO and DOJ officials regarding the detail system. “This makes policy decisions difficult regarding establishing this office,” Head told Morgan.

The Landrieu administration was also sharply criticized last week by the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, one of four groups that sought to intervene in the NOPD consent-decree proposal before Judge Susie Murgan approved it in January 2013. Ray Burkart III, the FOP’s attorney, told nola.com last week that the Landrieu administration’s outreach efforts are a thinly veiled attempt to exploit the officers. He said the new details office has already abused its power by requiring NOPD officers to attend meetings and not compensating them for their time or contributions to the process.

“What they’re trying to do is get free coordinating services from our officers and that is absolutely disgusting,” Burkart told nola.com. “They’re the ones making six figures a year. They’re the best and the brightest. What the hell do they need to talk to NOPD about? Their only purpose is detail assignments.”

The Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now, said Wednesday that Black New Orleans residents are both angry and weary of the Landrieu administration’s efforts to undermine and stall the implementation of the NOPD and OPP consent decrees.

“As we saw recently in the remarks of 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones and in a number of cases over the years involving civil rights and racial justice, it has become very difficult for Blacks in state and federal court to get a fair shake,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “That’s why these NOPD and OPP consent decrees are so important — they give Blacks, for the first time in a very, very long time, a chance to actually enjoy protection by the U.S. Constitution.

“But Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his administration are trying to undermine the rights of Black New Orleans residents by asking courts like the 5th Circuit and the state’s highest court — which have often been openly hostile to Blacks — to decide the fate of the NOPD and OPP consent decrees.

“That shows that he is not the least bit concerned with protecting the constitutional rights of Black New Orleans residents or bringing an end to unconstitutional policing in the city,” Brown added. “For Mitch, it’s all about winning at any cost. The loss of our constitutional rights and the lives of our children and grandchildren at the hands of the NOPD will simply be collateral damage.”

The Louisiana Weekly received a phone call last week from Brett McNeil, who says that the paper was “factually incorrect” in reporting that Black suspects were routinely tortured while Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hilliard ran the department. “Terry Hilliard was not leading the Chicago Police Department when that torture took place,” McNeil, who works for Hilliard Heintze, one of the two finalists for the contract to become the NOPD consent-decree monitor, told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday.

McNeil says the torture scandal preceded Hilliard’s tenure as police chief and that the claims of Chicago civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor about Hilliard’s knowledge and involvement have been challenged in federal court.

At a meeting in April, New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell read from a letter sent to her by Chicago civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor Jr. that questions former Chicago Police Department Supt. Terry Hilliard’s suitability for the job. In the letter, Taylor describes a culture of violence and corruption in the Chicago P.D. that led to the torturing of Black suspects, the wrongful arrest and detention of a seven- and eight-year-old Black boy in a murder case and a host of federal lawsuits against the City of Chicago that resulted from those violations. The total thus far is $17 million with two cases still pending.

“[H]e (Supt. Terry Hilliard) was not viewed as an agent of significant change or reform while serving as the Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, but rather was symbolic of the old-guard police in Chicago who defend their own, right or wrong, and resist change that would make the Department, its supervisors and its rank and file more accountable in the areas of police brutality and torture, false arrests, and wrongful prosecutions,” Taylor told Howell. “…I have serious concerns as to whether he would be able to aggressively enforce the consent decree against a department, such as that in New Orleans, where there will no doubt be strong internal resistance to change.”

Brett McNeil said last week that Hilliard, who served as superintendent from 1998 to 2003, was not involved in the Chicago Police Dept. torture scandal but was in fact Chicago police superintendent when the two young boys were wrongfully arrested and detained for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.

Hilliard co-founded Hilliard Heintze in 2004 and was tapped to serve as interim superintendent of the Chicago Police Department in 2011.

After three requested delays and a fourth delay caused by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court’s review of the NOPD consent decree appeal filed by the Landrieu administration, the 10-member panel charged with the task of selecting a NOPD consent-decree monitor failed to make a decision. That responsibility now falls to Judge Susie Morgan.
It is not known when Judge Morgan will name a monitor.

Meanwhile, the bitter feud between the mayor and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman continued to boil over as recent violence at OPP led to four inmates being taken to a hospital emergency room earlier this month.

FOX 9 News reported that the violent spree occurred on June 6, the same day a federal judge issued a ruling in support of a federal consent decree for the jail.

In one of the reported incidents, 16-year-old Brian Ellis allegedly had a plate of hot grits thrown in his face by 18-year-old Edward Dean. Then Dean allegedly stabbed Ellis with a shank in his head and body more than 20 times, sending him to the emergency room.

When asked by FOX 8 News about the incident, Sheriff Gusman said, “There’s a lot of dangerous people that we have in custody. Those two fellows are the more dangerous ones.”

Ellis’ mother. Cynthia Ellis, told FOX 8 News that she knew nothing about the attack until days later. When she spoke to her son, he complained about the lack of deputy supervision at the jail.

“My son said the only time they really see them is at roll call and when they feed them, after that, they’re on their own,” Cynthia Ellis said.

Gusman told FOX 8 News that a deputy was on the scene and called for back-up. FOX 8 asked Gusman how an inmate was able to stab another one more than 20 times before he was stopped.

The sheriff said the deputy had to take into consideration his own safety, explaining, “In a case like this with a fight you want to get more deputies there. So that’s what the protocol was, that’s what happened, the deputies responded and the incident was put down.”

Edward Dean is reportedly in jail awaiting trial on charges of murder and attempted murder. Brian Ellis is awaiting trial on attempted second-degree murder.

Ellis’ mother told FOX 8 News that despite the crime he’s imprisoned for, Ellis is still a human being. “They don’t deserve to be treated like animals. They’re still human and they have rights,” she said..

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to take receivership of Orleans Parish Prison until reforms have been implemented, weighed in on the violence Wednesday, criticizing the sheriff.

“The jail ought to be a safe place,” Landrieu told FOX 8 News. “The sheriff is the keeper of the jail. He has the power and the authority and the responsibility of running that jail appropriately and we’ve been very strong in our statements about the fact that he should do that.”

“I think the mayor has been engaging in this criticism because of failure to do his job,” Gusman shot back.

Gusman, who has said repeatedly that City Hall has severely underfunded OPP for years, said last week that the mayor’s job “is to make sure the city properly funds this facility.”

Katie Schwartzmann, Louisiana director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents the OPP inmates in the consent decree, told nola.com recently that the recent rash of violence at OPP underscores the need for drastic and immediate changes at the troubled prison.

“The reforms cannot come soon enough for the people in there,” Schwartzmann said. “The volume of calls we get out of the jail and severity of injuries —it’s obvious that people’s lives are really on the line.”

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the June 24, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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