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IG report slams NOPD’s handling of sexual assault cases

17th November 2014   ·   0 Comments

A report released on November 12 by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux painted an unflattering picture of the department’s Special Victims Section detectives’ handling of sexual assault cases over the past three years.

Among the report’s disturbing findings were the following:

• UCR (Uniform Crime Reporting) offenses were misclassified by the NOPD.

• Offenses were misclassified to a miscellaneous offense instead of unfounded (UCR).

• The NOPD incident reports were not completed by officers prior to ending their tour of duty.

• NOPD supervisors did not review incident and/or supplemental reports in a timely manner.

• Certain evidence was not remitted to Central Evidence & Property.

• The NOPD excluded forcible rapes with a disposition of “Report to Follow” in its UCR data.

The IG report covers the NOPD from June 1, 2010 through May 31, 2013, essentially the first three years Ronald Serpas served as NOPD Superintendent. The report, which grabbed national headlines Wednesday, alleges that five NOPD detectives — Akron Davis, Merrill Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Haynes— failed to follow up on 86 percent of the nearly 1,300 phone calls they received that reported sexual assaults over the three-year period.

All of the accused detectives have at least 15 years of duty under their belts st the NOPD.

Officer Akron Davis is a 16-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the NOPD Fifth District, FOX 8 News reported.

Sgt. Merrill Merricks is a 17-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the NOPD Second District.

Officer Derrick Williams is an 18-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the NOPD Seventh District.

Officer Damita Williams is a 20-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the NOPD Seventh District.

Officer Vernon Haynes is a 16-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the NOPD Seventh District.

According to the report, 840 of the 1,290 calls reporting a possible sexual assault were written up as “miscellaneous,” representing 65 percent of the calls where no investigation was conducted. Four hundred and fifty reports were written but in 60 percent of those cases, there was no supplemental report.

Among the cases that were mishandled were those of a toddler who tested positive for a sexually transmuted disease and child who lived in the same house as a registered sex offender.

Only 105 cases made it to the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. IG Ed Quatrevaux said Wednesday that he was alarmed by the fact that 15 of the cases involved children.

“There were material aspects from the medical communities and the courts that quite clearly show there’s a problem,” Quatrevaux said at a Wednesday morning press conference. “Somehow it wasn’t picked up by the detectives and the case was closed. Howard Schartz described the case of an injured child who the detective closed the case saying they couldn’t see the elements of the crime. But there were young children and there as a forensic interviews that did clearly spell out the abuse and also identified the perpetrator who lived in the house a registered sex offender and that’s just sending the kids back for more of the same.”

“I’m deeply disturbed by these allegations as I have said,” NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison told reporters Wednesday. “It’s our duty to protect and serve. We are going to take that seriously,

“These five detectives may have neglected their duty and even further,” Harrison added. “As a police department, we will not tolerate it.”

On Thursday, Harrison announc-ed that all five had been reassigned to administrative duties.

The NOPD Public Integrity Division has launched its own investigation of the five detectives and is looking closely at each of the allegations made in the IG rep or, Harrison said.

“Based on our initial review of the findings, we believe there is enough evidence to suggest that these five officers weren’t doing the job they were charged to do,” Harrison told reporters. “We will continue to investigate each case and will take additional disciplinary action if and when we discover violations.”

With the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office also asked to look into the IG report’s allegations, the five detectives may face termination and/or criminal prosecution.

Attorneys for the accused detectives declined to comment on the case. “We shouldn’t be in a rush to declare these officers guilty of any offense,” Donovan Livaccari, an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police, told “I think we need to take a close look at it and see if this was an individual issue or if it was a systematic issue that could be addressed through policy changes.”

“The Department of Justice and our U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to working with the District Court and the NOPD to ensure full compliance with the terms of the consent decree,” U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite told The Louisiana Weekly in an emailed response to questions about the IG report and what it means more than a year after the implementation of the NOPD consent decree began. “This includes its mandate for improvements to the policies, procedures and training relating to NOPD’s response to reports of sexual assault.”

“The latest report released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) should be enough for U.S. District Judge (Susie) Morgan to find a new monitor,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of the local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday. “CUC filed a response to federal monitor Sheppard Mullins’ last quarterly report which commented on the lack of due diligence the federal monitor is showing towards accomplishing the federal court’s mandates. CUC continues to point out the suffering the people of New Orleans endure because of the lack of due diligence. What becomes the question of the month is the ability of the federal courts to control power over political subdivisions within America. The people of New Orleans always had question about the ability of the city and state to maintain authority over the NOPD, now the question becomes whether or not the federal government can continue to maintain respect as the highest political authority in the land. Not only are the people of New Orleans the injured party of NOPD terror, the federal government has become NOPD’s latest victim.”

Johnson added that Sheppard Mullin must bear a significant part of the blame for not fulfilling its court-mandated role as federal monitor of implementation of the NOPD consent decree. “Sheppard Mullin’s refusal to be inclusive by not opening public access of the process to the people of New Orleans is an arrogant position,” Johnson said, especially after the people of New Orleans went out of their way to assist the U.S. Dept. of Justice during the initial investigation. It was because of the open public access the DOJ embraced that afforded enough information to justify a court-mandated prescription to resolve the injury to the people of New Orleans. After more than one year, the consent decree has lost any ground it may have gained from the court rulings prior to Sheppard Mullin’s appointment as federal monitor. This is the second OIG report that has blindsided Sheppard Mullin.

“As great of a job as the OIG has performed, I am cautious about the motives of the OIG,” Johnson said. “Is the OIG trying to open up the door for possibly having the courts second guess the federal process? For as long as the OIG has been sitting in its ivory tower, the people of New Orleans have gotten more from the OIG on the NOPD than we ever have. I welcome the assistance, but with reservations.”

Rafael Goyeneche, head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, told that it is “inexcusable” that an outside agency had to the department’s latest major flaw and not the NOPD’s internal —–and that the investigation into the mishandling of these sexual assault cases should look not only at the detectives’ two immediate supervisors but also at other managers all the way up to the unit’s deputy chief.

“This is a failure of the entire chain of command,” Goyeneche said, adding that firings and prosecution would be appropriate courses of action if the allegations made in the IG report are substantiated. “Those supervisors — if they’re not disciplined, there’s no incentive for them to change and the organization suffers and we will continue to see history repeat itself.”

Capt. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, agreed, telling that the only NOPD official who remained in power amid all the upheavals was the chief of detectives, Kirk Bouyelas, who served as the deputy chief over investigations from 2010 through late June, when he was tapped to become the chief investigator at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

“Chronic problems are management problems because they’re allowed to fester by management who failed to recognize it or failed to take action to address it,” Glasser said.

“This latest IG report is a slap in the face to every man, woman and child in New Orleans who demanded constitutional policing in New Orleans after the Danziger and Henry Glover cases,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Fur the past few years we had to listen to Mayor Landrieu and Chief Serpas say that the NOPD did not need a consent decree and that the department was already implementing reforms. Then we hear about more racial profiling, slow 911 response times, cops turning off body cameras and detectives ignoring calls for help from sexual assault victims.

“This is what happens when you elect politicians who demonstrate no integrity, no accountability, no commitment to running a transparent office or protecting residents’ constitutional rights,” Aha added.

Despite the fact that the latest black-eye took place during Serpas’ time as police chief, the mayor has repeatedly praised him for doing an excellent job.

Serpas unexpected announced his retirement in August, less than a week after an officer turned off a body camera before shooting a suspect in the head and the department failed to report the incident for two days.

Serpas now teaches criminal justice at Loyola University and collects a six-figure annual pension.

Ironically, during his retirement press conference Serpas boasted about clearing a backlog of “850 rape cases dating black to 2010,” the year he was hired.

Among those who have weighed in on the IG report and its meaning is anti-crime activist Nadra “Captain Black” Enzi, who wrote Thursday in a letter to the editor: “Recent revelations about lack of service in the New Orleans Police Department’s sex crimes unit only confirm obvious disinterest witnessed by myself and other anti crime activists during the past two terms…

“I don’t support the cronyism and politically-correct style of police mismanagement and politicking this mayor and his police superintendents have imposed upon this department and hostages in high-crime areas, which now means ANY zip code,” Enzi added.

“The NOPD needs direct federal oversight, with independent police AND community oversight addressing crisis-level crime, policy and retention issues. Otherwise it’s every man and woman for himself- our current state of affairs,” Enzi concluded.

“The bigger issue, for me, is how many of the incidents that went misclassified and uninvestigated involved Black victims,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Whenever police are derelict in their duties, run afoul of the law or engage in unconstitutional policing, poor people and Black folks are usually on the receiving end.

“Perhaps the U.S. Department of Justice should look closely at the race and economic background of the rape victims whose calls for help from the NOPD were ignored to determine if this constitutes a violation of their constitutional rights. The police get away with doing things to Black and poor people that they could never get away with when dealing with white and/or middle- and upperclass victims of sexual assault.”

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the November 17, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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