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Flap over emails casts cloud over post-Katrina convictions

3rd December 2012   ·   0 Comments

A federal judge in New Orleans made it clear last week that he is not the least bit pleased with reports about a series of emails posted anonymously by two top prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office. Calling the two prosecutors’ decision to post information online about active cases “skulduggery by the government,” Judge Kurt Engelhardt strongly urged Letten to appoint an independent counsel to probe the case.

The judge’s 50-page rant about the case comes on the heels of reports that former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Mann posted anonymous messages on nola.com about active cases and later lied about their involvement in the online scandal, activity that could lead to charges being filed for possible criminal misconduct.

Engelhardt’s dressing down of the U.S. Attorney’s Office was included in the judge’s response to a motion by five former members of the New Orleans Police Department convicted in the Danziger Bridge shootings, which left two dead and four others wounded just days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005.

A lawyer for former NOPD Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, one of the five officers convicted, says that Sal Perricone’s posted comments about the Danziger Bridge case amount to prosecutorial conduct.

Perricone’s involvement is currently being investigated by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) although it is unclear how deep the probe is going and whether Mann was questioned about her own involvement in the online-posting scandal.

To date, neither the Department of Justice nor U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has answered questions about Mann’s role in the case.

Judge Engelhardt told the local daily paper that he is not yet ready to rule on the officers’ bid for a new trial in part because he doesn’t

Among those joining the chorus of disapproval last week was U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, who said in a letter that he is “terribly distressed at the slow pace and possible major oversights” of the OPR probe.

“The fact that the investigation has taken so long, coupled with the fact that a very high-ranking official in the office has now been found to be acting improperly does not inspire confidence and raises many questions,” he wrote. “I want to review the current results so that I can be assured that the appropriate punitive measures are being explored and that the investigation is swiftly moving to a satisfactory conclusion.”

Community United for Change, one of the four groups seeking to intervene in the NOPD consent-decree proposal, has repeatedly asked the U.S. Department to investigate the NOPD, criminal justice system and NOPD for possible wrong doing and constitutional violations. The group has also led the effort to establish a civilian oversight panel to monitor changes made in the way the police department conducts business., particularly with regard to its interaction with residents.

“All of this just points to exactly how broken and dysfunctional the justice system is in New Orleans,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former Congressional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “In order to remove the cancer that has been plaguing this city for decades in the NOPD, we need to treat the entire system and not just certain areas.

“The mayor and U.S. Attorney’s Office’s behind-the-scenes efforts to block the creation of a civilian oversight panel is a dead giveaway that something is rotten in Denmark.

“As members of CUC and civil rights attorney Bill Quigley have said, tragically this may be the city’s last chance to get it right. With the judge hearing the case refusing to give CUC and residents in general a chance to weigh in about how the department needs to change, we’re off to a terrible start.”

As groups seeking to implement the NOPD consent decree line up to be considered, U.S. Judge Susie Morgan has not yet made a final decision regarding the consent decree.

Meanwhile, Dr. Romell Madison, the brother of Danziger Bridge murder victim Ronald Madison, told FOX * news last week that it would be a major insult for a judge to force his family to relive the pain and anguish it has already endured in order to convict the officers responsible for the deaths of Ronald Madison and James Brissette and the wounding of four others.

When Orleans Parish refused to prosecute the officers involved, Dr. Madison took his case to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Washington, D.C., who set the wheels of justice in motion for the U.S. Attorney’s Office to probe the incident.

FOX 8 News reported last week that Dr. Madison said it would be “a slap in the face for those who believe in justice, that through some technicalities, we might have to re-live the whole thing over again.”

“Jim Letten is a good man and that was a good prosecution, and to taint it is a problem legally and ethically,” veteran defense attorney Jason Williams told FOX 8 News in the same story.

Although Mann was demoted from the first assistant post, she remains in the U.S. Attorney’s office as she’s being scrutinized for possibly lying to federal agents.

Sources say Mann may have obstructed justice by lying to investigators with the Justice Department when they looked into who else besides Sal Perricone was posting comments on the web.

Mann was also present and said nothing as Letten represented to Judge Engelhardt that there were no other web posters besides Perricone—a statement which the judge himself calls “grossly misinformed.”

“I guarantee you that defense attorneys are spending time with every web post and news stories and trying to make a correlation,” said Williams.

Williams says, while it’s all problematic, it’s not clear at this point if the misdeeds rise to the level that would force a new trial for the Danziger defendants.

This article originally published in the December 3, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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