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Groups respond to comments that consent decree is unnecessary

4th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Edmund W. Lewis
The Louisiana Weekly Editor

A wide range of civil rights and community leaders spoke out last week after learning of the mayor’s assessment of the NOPD consent decree as “not necessary.”

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu filed papers in federal court on Feb. 22 that the consent decree designed to reform the city’s troubled police department is “not necessary” because of the changes already being made to the way the NOPD conducts business.

“The City is continuing its reform of the NOPD and will do so regardless of the existence of the NOPD Consent Decree,” the Landrieu administration told U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who approved the NOPD consent decree on January 11, and has withstood the city’s efforts to vacate the consent decree. “The City need not expend substantial financial resources simply for the federal government to be involved in a reform process that the City is demonstrably capable and committed to doing.”

NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas’ comments about the consent decree were somewhat puzzling. While he said he supports the city’s efforts to vacate the consent decree, he talked about the usefulness of a consent decree in providing a blueprint and roadmap for lasting reforms.

“I think everybody wants to make sure that there’s no sliding back. ‘Well, Serpas is gone, Landrieu is gone, let’s go back to where we used to be,’” he told “What a consent decree does is provide for a framework that doesn’t allow it to change by the differences in administration. And that’s fine. I’m very happy about that. I absolutely think the consent decree in the long run is what the department is going to need.”

The city has argued that the consent decree was tainted by the involvement of former high-ranking U.S. Attorney’s Office employee Sal Perricone, who resigned last year amid the fallout over an online posting scandal that included information from several active cases. The city argues that Perricone spent the better part of the past two years involved in efforts to reform the NOPD after several high-profile NOPD murder trials.

But the Department of Justice has said that the Landrieu Administration “vastly overstates the role Mr. Perricone played in this matter,” pointing out that Perricone resigned four months before the consent decree was crafted.

The DOJ also called into question the mayor’s honesty in suggesting that he was not aware of the steep costs associated with implementing NOPD reforms and changes at Orleans Parish Prison, which was targeted by the DOJ in a separate consent-decree proposal.

In an amicus brief filed late last month. Community United for Change asked the DOH to take over the NOPD until the reforms have been implemented. “The most recent actions of the City of New Orleans illustrate why they are not capable of self-governance in a constitutional manner…,” CUC told U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. “This court possesses the authority to implement any remedies necessary to correct constitutional violations and to take broad remedial action to ensure compliance with its orders… This Court has authority under Rule 66 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to order the New Orleans Police Department to be placed into receivership or put under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

“CUC’s position all along has been that Mitch was never serious about having the DOJ investigate the NOPD,” W.C. Johnson, a member of CUC and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “When CUC started clarifying the misinformation Mitch was communicating about inviting the DOJ to New Orleans back in 2010, we knew then that Mitch was framing a favorable position with the DOJ to give the illusion that Mitch was the savior for New Orleans. Unfortunately, Mitch began to drink his own Kool-Aid from the campaign for mayor, and now believes he can get everyone else to drink along with him.

“Mitch has very little documented experience with actual responsibility. Mitch has basically gotten a free ride on his father’s coattails. As Lieutenant Governor, Mitch was just a figurehead, with no real responsibilities or hardcore decisions to make; nothing in the area of breads and butter issues for Mitch to do. Mitch’s tenure with legislative duties couched his shortcomings because Mitch was just one grain of sand on the beach,” Johnson continued.

“By Mitch being raised as a child in a political family, Mitch learned early the tricks of the trade and realized that successful politicians are very accomplished magicians. What Mitch missed was the necessary substance needed to pull off the illusion. This is why Mitch’s sleight of hand has fallen apart with the DOJ. Mitch built his illusion on sand instead of hard rock.

“Mitch needed Serpas as Chief of Police to complete the illusion; this is evident in Mitch’s choice for the many failed initiatives to correct the direction of crime and reform the police department. Serpas is waist high in the failures of the Landrieu Administration’s indifference to a constitutional police force. Both Mitch and Serpas take a Bonnie and Clyde approach to the criminal justice concerns of New Orleans. Just look at their record when it comes to handling the Sipp-Allen cases; the Save Our Sons campaign, Ceasefire, Crime Cameras, Police Details, Serpas’ retirement scandal, and at least 95 percent of the administration’s positions and policies since 2010.

“This is why the consent decree is not necessary, as far as Mitch is concerned. Mitch truly believes he can do no wrong. Mitch is betting that if you say something long enough, people will believe you. And if you say the same things often enough, it will come true. Mitch is wishing on a star with his brand of governance.”

CUC hosted a town hall meeting last week that gave residents and community groups a chance to talk publicly about the NOPD consent decree and other issues related to social and economic justice.

“CUC laid out the new strategies and plans in wake of the mayor’s attempts to back out of the consent decree,” Johnson said. “CUC is going ahead with plans to create and form a Community Oversight Commission with at least two citizens from each police district in New Orleans. From there, CUC will enlighten the citizens as to what constitutes constitutional policing. CUC will then follow the empowering plan to give these citizens the authorization to take charge of and begin controlling constitutional policing in their districts.

“The second phase of Community Oversight is to establish a Cop Watch Program, which consists of citizens being educated in the monitoring of police activities, both on and off duty. The Cop Watch Program will give added protection to citizens who are stopped on foot or pulled over for random vehicular stops. Cop Watch was successful initiated in New Orleans prior to Katrina by a group calling themselves ‘Men in Black’ who patrolled the streets of New Orleans until Katrina.”

Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, said Thursday that he was “disturbed, highly concerned and alarmed” by the mayor’s comments about the consent decree being unnecessary.

“That reaction is based on the fact that the federal government recognizes that there is a need for the consent decree,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “The citizens recognize there is a need for the consent decree and up until recently, the administration realized that there was a need for the consent decree — not only a need but an urgent need.

“Some of the things that the consent decree touches upon are directly related to public safety — the consent decree addresses issues such as excessive use of force by the department. That’s directly related to public safety. It has been recognized that there are practices and procedures that the NOPD has been using that are clearly a violation of not only civil rights but human rights, resulting in bodily harm to citizens. There’s an urgent need to have that reformed. For the mayor or anyone else to say that reforms are being put in place now so we don’t need the consent decree, the only response that anyone has is to look at what’s actually happening right now.”

King pointed to the Feb. 12 incident during which two Black teenagers — Sidney Newman, 17, and Ferdinand Hunt, 18 — were assaulted by nine plainclothes state police and a plainclothes NOPD officer in the French Quarter, The entire incident was recorded by a crime camera on Conti Street.

“The consent decree recognizes the problem of reporting in the NOPD,” King said. “We’ve had a problem with falsification of reports in the department. We see that still occurring with this most recent incident. There was physical force that was used on those young men, there was an NOPD officer that was present — there should have been a report. To date, no one has said anything about there being an NOPD report being filed by the officer who was involved in the incident. There has not even been a hint that a report was made. It should have been reported.

“The fact that there is no report belies the statement about reforms already being implemented without a consent decree,” King added. “The consent decree is needed because a consent decree has a certain mechanism for enforcement. If a consent decree is in place and there are violations of it, then there are some consequences and repercussions. That’s what needed right now. Just saying that we’re implementing reforms on our own, that’s not working. The proof is in the pudding — it’s not working.”

King said that there is no reason to believe that the city or the police department has the will or ability to fix what’s wrong with the NOPD detail system, which allows cops to earn extra money by providing security to private groups. “That’s related to our tax dollars,” King said. “When we have officers that are being paid by us to work their shifts with the NOPD but at the same time they’re on the payroll getting paid details, somebody’s really not getting their money’s worth. Either the people that are paying for the details aren’t getting the services they’re paying for or us citizens that are paying these salaries for the officers are not getting the services we’re paying for because people can’t be in two places at one time.

“We’re seeing now that there is backtracking and the NOPD is now saying that the detail system isn’t much of a problem,” King added. “How in less than six months’ time, have we gone from what the federal government described as an ‘aorta of corruption’ to the situation not really being that bad?

“All of this tells the community that this consent decree is necessary. No, we can’t do it on our own, we haven’t been able to do it on our own and there’s nothing that has occurred that suggests that in the future we will be able to do it on our own.”

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan said recently that a decision regarding the Landrieu administration’s efforts to vacate the NOPD consent decree would be made by April 11, which is the date on which she is expected to name a monitor to oversee the implementation of reforms.

When asked what he would say to President Obama and AG Holder about the need to finish the job they began when they launched an investigation of the NOPD, King said, “The sooner, the better.

“My plea to President Obama and AG Holder would be that whatever agent or agents are working with the NOPD be given carte blanche to review any file dealing with an investigation of alleged police misconduct,” King added.

A number of leaders told The Louisiana Weekly that the selection of a new U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana will play a critical role in ongoing efforts to reform the NOPD. Some also said that it’s up to residents and community groups to remain vigilant and involved in the process.

“New Orleans is not only in need of NOPD reform, New Orleans is in need of total criminal justice reform,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the current guardians of public trust are not willing to embrace or enforce constitutional policing or constitutional rights, privileges and protections for the Black community of New Orleans. That becomes extremely obvious with both the brother/sister, tag-team partnership New Orleans has in Mitch, as mayor, and Mary, as senior U.S. senator. The moves on the political board of chess suggest that neither Mitch nor Mary Landrieu wants constitutional reforms for New Orleans. Mitch has reneged on his promise for constitutional policing by trying to vacate the consent decree. Mary is abdicating her public trust by trying to replace Jim Letten with a suntanned version of Jim Letten. Remember, Jim Letten was successfully retained by President Obama because of Mary Landrieu placing her political capital on the line for Jim.

“Sen. Landrieu’s attempt at only nominating Kenneth J. Polite Jr. for the post of U.S. attorney is a clear indication that she is up to the same tricks as her brother Mitch as they try to seize and maintain full control of New Orleans,” Johnson continued. “Mitch and Mary’s holier-than-thou attitudes are reminiscent of the old emperor who beheaded people for killing game in order to feed their families.

“CUC has taken an official position along with Carl Galmon’s citizens group, that the community will be involved in the selection process and will hold public meetings to discuss and select viable candidates for the position of U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”

CUC announced last week that it has planned a follow-up meeting to discuss strategies for securing constitutional policing in the courts and on the streets of New Orleans and a host of other issues amid growing concerns about police brutality, corruption, racial profiling and the use of excessive force. That meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) office which is located at 4718 Paris Avenue in the Oak Park Shopping Center.

“The way the city is being run today is an insult to Dutch Morial, the Rev. Avery C. Alexander, Dorothy May Taylor, and all the people who fought for justice and equity in New Orleans, the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “What the mayor is doing with regard to trying to block the consent decree is shameful, there’s no doubt about that. But what is even more shameful is that the Black community in New Orleans is letting him get away with that and a lot of other things that undermine and marginalize Black people.

“We need to stand up and be heard on the consent-decree issue and the debate over who should be the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana,” Brown added.

“We’ve seen in the past the problems that we’ve had with Danziger, (Henry) Glover and (Raymond) Robair were not addressed by the NOPD or our local federal agencies until there was a change at the top in the Attorney General’s office,” King said. “When President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder took over, they are the ones that actually got the ball rolling on the federal level to address issues like the Danziger and Glover cases. We know that it makes a difference who’s sitting over on Camp Street — we know that and we’ve seen it.

“We know that there’s discretion as to what incidents are going to be investigated. We know that there’s discretion as to how much resources are going to be put into an investigation and whether charges will be filed or not, so it’s important that we have folks that don’t have any allegiances and are able to make objective decisions as to how much resources are needed for investigated and which incidents should be investigation. It’s crucial. It just goes to show you how much power there is over there on Camp Street.

“Again, we’re talking about public safety, the safety of the individual citizens,” King added. “If we have rogue cops that are violating people’s rights and/or filing false police reports, if we have that going on and we don’t have at least that deterrent on the federal level, then that means that the safety of the public is in jeopardy.”

This article originally published in the March 4, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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