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Federal judge weighs in as CNO and DOJ wrangle over NOPD consent decree

11th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

Although the City of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Justice once seemed to be united in their efforts to block four groups seeking a seat at the negotiating table as a federal judge pondered a NOPD consent-decree proposal, the Landrieu administration and the DOJ now find themselves at odds with the mayor seeking to toss out the recently approved NOPD consent decree and the DOJ vehemently opposing that move.

For the time being, the Federal Court has sided with the DOJ as the city tries to nullify the Consent Decree.

“While the City will not suffer irreparable harm if its stay request is denied, granting the stay and suspending implementation of the Decree will substantially injure the interests of the United States in securing constitutional policing for the residents of New Orleans and NOPD officers,” the DOJ contended in court papers filed last week. “The Decree is the product of the United States’ extensive pattern or practice investigation of NOPD that began in May 2010 and resulted in a comprehensive report in which the United States found that NOPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force; unlawful stops, searches and arrests; and discriminatory policing based on race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, all in violation of the Constitution and federal law.”

The DOJ added that the the Landrieu administration has not made a strong case for tossing out the Decree.

“The City’s motion for stay is unaccompanied by any evidence that NOPD has been able to correct the patterns of constitutional violations the United States found,” the DOJ said in court papers filed Wednesday. “The City has not implemented the requirements of the Decree meant to correct widespread constitutional violations by NOPD officers. The City has not, for example provided the level of training, supervision, investigations, oversight, community engagement, officer assistance, or transparency required by the Decree to correct patterns of constitutional conduct.

“In moving for a stay, the City has not provided any specific information from which one could conclude that the practices that led to a series of federal criminal convictions of NOPD officers, and a longstanding pattern of widespread constitutional misconduct, have been effectively corrected. The changes necessary to correct unconstitutional policing by NOPD are embodied in the Decree, and the City has previously agreed.

“[S]taying the Decree will further delay implementation of the measures urgently needed to remedy NOPD’s ongoing pattern of unconstitutional conduct, causing substantial injury to the people of New Orleans.”

On Friday, Feb. 8, U.S. Judge Susie Morgan sided with the DOJ, writing, “The Court agrees with the United States.”

“The City fails to demonstrate that it is at risk of suffering irreparable harm if implementation of the Consent Decree is not stayed. The City and NOPD must comply with the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States. To that end, the City has represented to the Court that it intends to move forward with reforming the NOPD so that it will be in compliance with all applicable laws,” iMorgan wrote. “Regardless of how such reform may be achieved,whether via collaboration between the United States and the City, or via another process, it will never be without cost.”

Legal analysts told WDSU when the city filed the motion described it as a “Hail Mary” to try to block an agreement that, just last year, appeared to have the support of City Hall.

Friday’s ruling by Morgan casts doubt on any continued efforts to vacate the federal reform order.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said the city will pay $11 million a year to adhere to the Consent Decree.

“The Consent Decree between the City of New Orleans (CNO) and the DOJ was an attempt by the CNO to temper the mandated changes that a Federal Court would normally order,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-accesss show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “The Landrieu Administration, through its clever attempts of using honey to attract bees, tried to bamboozle the DOJ with its attempts at being cooperative with the DOJ; only to find itself plagued with other strategies of tap dancing around serious deficiencies’ in other arenas. This is where the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) enters into the equation of the NOPD’s Consent Decree.

“CUC had warned DOJ of the slippery slope the City Administration would attempt to play with any agreements to reform the NOPD. Mitch’s cry-wolf analogy through his attempt to vacate the Consent Decree is only an attempt to derail the Consent Decree with the already failed 65 Point Plan of Serpas that failed before the ink dried on the document. What the victims of police terror and the general citizenry must keep in mind is that New Orleans has a Findings Letter (conclusion to a federal investigation into police corruption) which is a mandate for constitutional change for a policing agency. It is within this mandate that the victims and people of New Orleans must push forward with all vigor to insure true police reform for the city of New Orleans.”

“At this point we must recall the comments of Mayor Landrieu about former Mayor Ray Nagin’s indictments, where Mitch talked about the corruption of the Nagin Administration,” Johnson added. “Since Mitch is going to pass the cost of NOPD and OPP reform onto the people of New Orleans, the people of New Orleans are entitled to a forensic audit of all city business to determine whether or not the monies are being properly disbursed. The audit would need to be inclusive of the OPP expenditures as well. Since Mitch has raised the ‘Red Herring’ flag, the people need to investigate to ensure that the current Administration is on legally sound ground.

“CUC is recommending that the victims of police terror and the general citizenry under the jurisdiction of the NOPD continue to push forward with NOPD Citizens Oversight through the monitoring provisions provided for through the Findings Letter and the Consent Decree. Now I know many of the people of New Orleans will respond by not seeing any formal Citizens Oversight spelled out within the Consent Decree. However, there are provisions in the law that will give us powers for Oversight. That is why CUC will hold another Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, at the Historic St. James AME Church (meeting hall in rear of church) beginning at 6:00 p.m. CUC invites the community to attend and if anyone wants to be a part of the program, please contact CUC at (504) 251-2201.”

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

This article was originally published in the February 11, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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