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Group wants DOJ to take control of NOPD

25th February 2013   ·   0 Comments

On Wednesday, Community United for Change (CUC) filed and the court accepted an Amicus Brief (Friend of the Court) in Federal Court in opposition to the City of New Orleans’ recent motion to vacate the NOPD consent decree. The group said that rather than allow the City of New Orleans to back out of the NOPD consent decree, the U.S. Department of Justice should seize control of the embattled police department to ensure that long-lasting reforms are implemented.

“The people of New Orleans are entitled to human, civil and constitutional rights,” CUC said in Wednesday’s court brief. “These rights are not dependent on the financial or political option of the government. It is shocking that the City of New Orleans takes the position that people are only entitled to a constitutional police force or a constitutional jail. This latest attempt by the City of New Orleans to escape its constitutional responsibilities under the Consent Decree is yet another illustration of why there have been decades of problems with NOPD. This latest attempt to avoid responsibility is proof positive that the NOPD and the City of New Orleans are incapable of policing themselves. CUC opposes the City’s efforts to vacate the consent decree. CUC urges this Court to use this latest attempt to avoid its legal responsibilities to relieve the City of New Orleans entirely of its authority over the NOPD. CUC urges the Court to consider placing the NOPD in receivership under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice. CUC urges the Court to order a takeover of NOPD by the DOJ for as long as it takes to create a police force which is accountable to, and respects the human and civil rights of, all of its citizens.”

In Wednesday’s filing, CUC reiterated a point it has been making since the contents of the consent-decree proposal were made public: The remedy recommended by the DOJ is not strong enough to cure the NOPD’s systemic problems. “CUC has and continues to argue that the Consent Decree is too lenient on the New Orleans Police Department as it relies too much on the exact same authorities who have created its problems to fix its problems,” the brief says. “CUC is in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that the NOPD needs much more urgency and civilian control and oversight than is provided by the Consent Decree. Despite the fact that CUC thinks the Consent Decree is not enough, the idea that the City of New Orleans wants to do even less is disturbing and the case for this Friend of the Court Brief.”

CUC pointed to several 5th Circuit Court rulings that “Constitutional Rights are not dependent on money.” It further states; “Inadequate resources can never be an adequate justification for depriving any person of his or her constitutional rights.”

It was also pointed out in other Circuit Courts that; “Humane consideration and constitutional requirements are not, in this day, to be measured or limited by dollar consideration.”

In its brief, CUC also points to Supreme Court rulings that;… ”police are subject to US Constitution and the people do not give up all constitutional rights once they are arrested and placed in jail awaiting trial.”

CUC reminded the court of the Consent Decree currently in place in Oakland, Calif., in Allen v. City of Oakland, CA. where the people of Oakland filed a Motion for Appointment of a Receivership which is currently being considered. CUC said it believes the City of New Orleans has broken ‘Good Faith” efforts to reform the NOPD; as revealed in the City’s Motion to Vacate Consent Decree, and that the only remedy afforded the people of New Orleans is to place the City in Receivership for the purposes of reforming an unconstitutional policing organization.

The Landrieu administration last month sought to vacate the consent decree, citing its cost and the online posting scandal involving a key U.S. Attorney’s Office administrator, Sal Perricone.

In early February, the Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) filed a brief seeking to toss out the NOPD consent decree, also citing concerns about Sal Perricone’s online posts about several active cases while a pivotal member of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s administration. Among other things, the brief accused the DOJ of misrepresenting itself during consent-decree negotiations with the City of New Orleans.

A federal judge sided with the DOJ in that hearing.

On February 15, federal prosecutors said in a court brief that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu was not being truthful about his knowledge of consent-decree negotiations, calling the mayor’s attempt to toss out the consent decree a ploy to “gain leverage” over DOJ efforts to implement a consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison.

“This assertion is not true, and, in any event, the City nowhere explains why it believes the United States had any duty to conduct the City’s cost analysis for it, or to provide this information to the city at any point,” the filing says.

In a statement released Friday evening, February 15, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said the DOJ’s latest filing mischaracterized its interactions with the city. In part, Berni wrote, “After extensive negotiations including cost considerations on the NOPD decree, the DOJ has demanded that the taxpayers of New Orleans fork over an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money for the prison decree.

“It is clear that both the prison and NOPD consent decrees cannot be paid for at this time without raising taxes or laying off or furloughing employees. And it does not make sense to lay off or furlough police officers so the Sheriff can hire more prison guards and pay them higher salaries.”

Also on Feb. 15, the Fraternal Order of Police filed court papers backing Mayor Landrieu’s motion to vacate the consent decree. The FOP document contends that the agreement was too costly for the undermanned and overwhelmed police department to implement and that the NOPD has already addressed many of its problems. The FOP brief does not pull any punches, telling the Federal Court, “The city is better off without the consent decree.”

“No one is saying that all of the consent-decree components have been adopted but many have and it’s obvious that this mayor and police chief are committed to reform,” the FOP brief adds.

After U.S. Judge Susie Morgan denied Landrieu’s motion to vacate the consent decree, the mayor said he would take his case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, 10 people have been selected to monitor the NOPD consent decree. The committee includes four members of the Landrieu administration, a police liaison, and five members of the Department of Justice. The members of the committee are CAO Andy Kopplin, Chief of Staff Judy Reese Morse, Chief Financial Officer Norman Foster, Chief Deputy City Attorney Erica Beck, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr.; Joshua A. Ederheimer, principal deputy director of the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services; Emily Gunston, of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Special Liti­gation Section; Christy Lopez, the Special Litigation Section’s Deputy Chief; Stephen Parker, an assistant U.S. attorney based out of Memphis,.and Daniel Caze­nave, a liaison between NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas and the DOJ.

Community United for Change and other groups like the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP have argued that incidents like the fatal NOPD shootings of Justin Sipp and Wendell Allen last year and the assault on two Black teenagers by nine plainclothes state policemen and one plainclothes NOPD officer in the French Quarter on February 12 make it clear that the DOJ needs to take over the NOPD.

Crime cameras recorded the incident as Sidney Newman, 17, and Ferdinand Hunt, 18, waited in the 700 block of Conti Street for Hunt’s mother, an 8th District NOPD officer, to bring them a meal after they attended a downtown parade. The two teens were accosted by the 10 officers while waiting for Hunt’s mother. When she arrives and identifies the two young men, the plainclothes officers are shown walking away. The families of the two young men recently filed a formal complaint with the FBI.

Attorney Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, recently called for a full investigation of the incident with full disclosure of the probe’s findings.

“As Chair of the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, I am highly concerned about an incident that occurred in the French Quarter over the Mardi Gras weekend,” District A New Orleans City Councilwoman Susan Guidry said Wednesday. “A surveillance video depicts plainclothes State Police officers using substantial force against two young African-American men who were standing against a building. It does not appear from the video that the young men posed a threat to the officers or to the public. I have spoken with State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson and with the Director of the State Police Office of Internal Affairs and have been informed that they are conducting a thorough internal investigation of this matter.

“There was one NOPD officer who was part of the Task Force team,” Guidry continued. “I have spoken with Superintendent Serpas and Arlinda Westbrook, Chief of the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau, who have assured me that they are likewise conducting an internal investigation. I must note, however, that the lone NOPD officer implicated in the incident appears to have had no direct involvement in what occurred other than being physically present in the area. Additionally, our local Independent Police Monitor is following this situation, and I believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the matter as well. I have been informed that the investigations will be conducted as expeditiously as possible, but that details of the incident will not be released pending conclusion of those investigations. It is my intention that this incident will be addressed at a future Criminal Justice Committee meeting.”

“It sounds like Councilwoman Susan Guidry is trying to pass the buck and is glad that other agencies are investigating the attack on those two Black teenagers over the Mardi Gras weekend,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “As far as her comments about ‘the lone NOPD officer’ and his role in the incident, it sounds like she is trying to shield the NOPD from public criticism and blame the whole incident on the state police. The truth is, those state police were in New Orleans at the request of the Landrieu administration and the NOPD. Both the mayor and the police chief should be held accountable for any actions taken that violates the U.S. constitution by an individual or group of individuals called in to work as supplemental law enforcement officers. For all intents and purposes, those state police were under the jurisdiction of the NOPD and were essentially NOPD officers.”

A witness who worked in the French Quarter told FOX 8 News that he was standing about 15 feet away from where the incident occurred and saw nothing that justified the physical confrontation initiated by the plainclothes officers. He said, “We were all tired from Mardi Gras, but there was no reason for them to snatch anybody up like that.”

The witness says the police officers relented when the teen’s mother approached them. “She was like, ‘What the hell’s going on? I don’t understand.’ And once they figured out she was a cop, they let them up,” he told FOX 8 News.

“It looks like there was unreasonable force used on these two young men,” Councilwoman Gui­dry, the chair of the council’s Criminal Justice Committee, told FOX 8 News.

CUC has called for a Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, February 26, for 6:00 p.m. at the Historic St. James A.M.E. Church, 221 N. Derbigny St., to discuss the rejection of police reform by the City of New Orleans as the NOPD continues to use unconstitutional policing throughout the New Orleans neighborhoods. New plans and strategies will be discussed because of the attempts of the City to Vacate the Consent Decree.

“It’s time for everybody to stand up and let their voices be heard,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “We can’t sit around and wait for somebody else or the federal government to fight for us. We need to demand justice for everyone who has been victimized and attacked by the NOPD. It’s time for everybody to step up and send a message to the powers that be— we can no longer afford to remain silent or on the sidelines.”

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

This article was originally published in the February 25, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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