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Jousting over NOPD consent decree continues

22nd April 2013   ·   0 Comments

Community United for Change, a grassroots organization that spearheaded a series of community-wide meetings between residents and U.S. Dept. of Justice officials before the NOPD consent decree was crafted and approved by a federal judge, stepped up last week to ask that same judge to throw out one of the two groups vying to become the consent decree’s federal monitor.

Earlier this month, a 10-member panel charged with selecting a federal NOPD consent-decree monitor narrowed the field from five candidates to two. The two remaining teams are Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze and Washington-based Sheppard Nullin, Richter & Hampton. A decision by the panel is expected before an April 30 deadline.

In an effort to prevent the implementation of NOPD reforms from being undermined by members of Hilliard Heintze with political ties to the Landrieu administration, CUC is asking U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to disqualify Hilliard Heintze as a finalist for the post. The group is also seeking a way to convince Sheppard to tweak its tweak its proposal to include a number of specific changes aimed at preventing the NOPD reform process from being compromised.

To that end, civil rights attorney Bill Quigley penned a letter on behalf of CUC to Judge Susie Morgan and two representatives from both the DOJ and CNO.

“CUC has observed and made comments in the selection pro­cess,” Quigley wrote in the April 15 letter. “While members of the public were allowed to speak for two minutes each, there was no evidence that community positions or comments were taken into consideration at any stage of the process. There is a substantial difference between being able to give a two-minute comment and real community participation.

“CUC and other community or­ganizations should have had a real part in the decision-making about who the monitor should be,” Quig­ley continued. “For example, the community was not involved in narrowing the applicant field to the two final proposals. Indeed the City, as an example of its overall disrespect and disregard of community input, chose as its final candidate the one applicant which was most vehemently objected to by community observers of the process.

“Turning to the two remaining candidates, CUC position is that Hillard Heintze is patently unqualified for the position and the Shepard proposal still has work to do in order to gain the trust of the New Orleans community.

“Sheppard has yet to create a robust community component,” Quigley wrote. “It needs to do serious work in that area in order to have a realistic chance of being effective as a monitor of the NOPD. Absent vital community input and trust, the monitor will have little chance of success.”

While Quigley told Judge Morgan and CNO and DOJ officials that Sheppard needs to step up and make some changes to its proposal before being seriously considered, he reiterated his client’s position that Hilliard Heintze should be nixed from the selection process altogether because of the makeup of its team.
Hillard Heintze (HH) has identified who its local partners are and in CUC’s view those local partners disqualify them as a valid applicant for this important position.

“The main reason that HH is unqualified is that it has chosen to work with local partners whose commitment to vigorous oversight of the NOPD and independence from City Hall is questionable. This position will be a challenging and difficult job. Trying to remake the NOPD into a constitutional policing force which respects all the women and men in New Orleans is going to be demanding and controversial. Without absolute independence from City Hall, the community will never believe the monitor is doing a full and fair job in what promises to be a very tough job. This job cannot be a political one.

Quigley does not mince words in describing CUC’s objections to the possibility of a federal consent decree monitor being chose who has political, social or economic ties to the Landrieu administration and/or the Landrieu family.

“HH relies on local partners whose independence from City Hall is questionable and who display insufficient confidence in the community need for a vigorous independent monitor of the NOPD,” Quigley told Judge Morgan.

“Dr. Charles Southall is one listed local partner of HH. He did the invocation for the inauguration of the Mayor who now tries to reverse the NOPD consent decree. Southall has many businesses in New Orleans and Baton Rouge and owns homes in both places. One of the businesses in which he is a co-owner, a Mortuary, received a donation of funds from the Mayor’s campaign fund in 2012 to help bury a victim of a police shooting. Campaign disclosure forms indicate he also contributed $4,600 to the campaign of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu in 2008, the Mayor’s sister. Rev Southall may well be a wonderful minister, but he is hardly independent of the Mayor whose NOPD he is supposed to be able to independently monitor.”

Quigley also said Monday that CUC has reservations about Tulane criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf’s affiliation with Hilliard Heintze. “Scharf has already served on one task force for the Mayor who seeks to get out of the consent decree,” he pointed out. “Further, in comments in the New York Times about the consent decree, Scharf is quoted as saying local NOPD officers fear the new initiative ‘targets the police officers in New Orleans, not works with them,’ and worried that it requires the city to ‘dismember’ its police department in the midst of a murder epidemic. He also wrote an article about consent decree (found at http://www.thecrimereport.org/news/inside-criminal-justice/2012-10-the-perils-of-police-reform) in which he concluded: ‘I believe those charged with overseeing NOPD compliance with the Consent Decree will need to be vigilant and proactive in helping to head off two potential negative consequences of the Decree itself: a near-term reduction in available NOPD experienced officers, and a corresponding increase in violence in key neighborhoods across the city.’ CUC views him as not committed enough to a tough independent monitor capable of challenging the deep problems of the NOPD. Professor Scharf may well be a respected academic, but CUC concludes that he, like Rev Southall, is not independent enough of the Mayor who is now opposing and trying to be released from this decree and thus not an appropriate part of a vigorous independent monitor of NOPD.”

“The job of the monitor, if done well, is going to be far too difficult to be held back by political considerations,” Quigley says in the April 15 letter. “Independence is absolutely necessary and the HH proposal does not display a commitment to independence.

“In sum, CUC finds HH absolutely unqualified and asks the parties and the Court to push the remaining applicant Shepard to create a robust and independent community component.”

Earlier this month, DOJ officials asked Judge Susie Morgan to confirm that the Landrieu administration may not unilaterally renegotiate the monitoring agreement. “The Parties previously agreed on a contract between the City and the monitor, and this Professional Services Agreement (PSA) was approved by the Court on September 20, 2012,” DOJ officials said in court papers filed April 9, 2013.

“[T]he City has indicated to the United States that, if the Committee is unable to reach agreement on a proposed monitor, it intends to negotiate a contract with both remaining candidates before the candidates are submitted to the Court,” the DOJ asserted.

“Unilaterally negotiating substantive terms of the PSA with even one candidate runs contrary to the explicit terms of the Request for Proposals, Consent Decree and the Court’s Order approving the PSA,” DOJ officials added. “Unilaterally renegotiating the PSA with two candidates violates the explicit terms of the monitor selection Agreement and raises additional concerns,

“Allowing the City, without the involvement of the United States, to negotiate the PSA with two separate candidates before either is selected would eviscerate the bilateral selection of the monitor based on the proposals they submitted,” the DOJ added. “This is so because, by pitting the candidates against one another, the City could demand concessions of the candidates without the knowledge or agreement of the United States, and these concessions could be inconsistent with an effective and appropriate monitoring proposal. Moreover, it may give the candidates the false impression that they are beholden to the City, rather than to the Court, and might lend to the appearance that the proposed monitor made inappropriate concessions to appeal to the City.”

Tempers flared in Monday’s monitor selection committee meeting as members of CUC and a growing list of detractors questioned Hilliard Heintze’s suitability for the job of consent decree monitor.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear the number of people representing a wide cross section of socioeconomic classes, some actually being Landrieu supporters in past campaigns, damning the Hilliard Heintz group,” W,C. Johnson, host of “OurStory” and a member of CUC, told The Louisiana Weekly Thursday.

Johnson said that it was obvious to those who attended the selection committee meetings that the panel members from the CNO were assembled by the mayor to ensure that Hilliard Heintze made it through to the final two.

New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell read a letter from Chicago civil rights attorney F. Flint Taylor who she asked to weigh in on the job performance and civil rights record of former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hilliard, one of the primary partners in Hilliard Heintze. In the letter dated April 12, Taylor, whose career in civil rights reminds Howell that Hilliard served as Chicago Police Department Superintendent during some of that department’s darkest days. Hilliard was at the helm, Taylor points out, when Chicago cops were caught routinely using torture tacts like “electric shock, suffocation mock execution” on Black suspects. Two of those Black “suspects” were seven and eight years old when the Chicago P.D. reportedly fabricated a confession out of the “mentally delayed” seven-year-old after an 11-year-old girl was brutally raped and murdered in 1998, Taylor says. “Mr. Hilliard was personally informed of the boys’ arrest and permitted them to be charged with murder and rape, and held in custody om a children’s mental hospital until adult sperm was recovered from the little girl’s body a month later,” Taylor wrote. “The actual perpetrator, a serial sexual predator, was later arrested and convicted.”

Taylor said the City of Chicago eventually paid the boys’ families $8 million. Five additional federal lawsuits resulted from Chicago torture/wrongful conviction lawsuits, with three of them totaling $17 million in settlements thus far. The remaining two cases are still pending.

Taylor made it clear in the letter to his New Orleans colleague that there was no way he could recommend Hilliard Heintze as a suitable candidate to serve as a federal consent-decree monitor. “He was not viewed as an agent for significant change or reform while serving as the superintendent for the Chicago Police Department, but rather was symbolic of the old-guard police in Chicago who defend their own, right or wrong, and resist change that would make the department, its supervisors and its rank and file more accountable in the areas of police brutality and torture, false arrests and wrongful prosecutions,” Taylor wrote. “…I have serious concerns as to whether he would be able to aggressively enforce the consent decree against a department, such as that in New Orleans, where there will no doubt be strong internal resistance to change.”

DOJ officials have expressed skepticism about Hilliard Heintze being up to the challenge of monitoring the NOPD consent decree, which would be the group’s first such contract. “We just think this is a big case to take on as your first monitoring job,” DOJ attorney Christy Lopez said in federal court Monday.

During a heated exchange, Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin took offense with the suggestion that the former Chicago police superintendent and his team might not be able to handle the harrowing task of overhauling the NOPD. “I’m just trying to understand — you seem to suggest that the job of running a monitoring team is more complicated than operating a police department?”

“These are very different jobs,” Deputy Asst. U.S. Attorney Roy Austin shot back.

CNO officials complained that while Hilliard Heintze has released the names of its local partners to the public, Sheppard has not, giving the latter a distinct advantage as time to select a federal monitor winds down. “I don’t know if it’s a fair evaluation unless we know in advance who we think they will be engaging as their local presence,” Asst. City Attorney Sharonda Williams said in court Monday.

A final decision is expected to be made by April 30. Should the 10-member panel fail to agree on a federal monitor for the NOPD consent decree, that task will be taken up by U.S. Judge Susie Morgan.

W.C. Johnson said that he has seen encouragement and hope on the faces of New Orleans residents who are beginning to believe that active citizen participation and vigilance can make a difference. “Now that the people of New Orleans have had an opportunity to see what federal intervention can do, we must continue to educate ourselves and explore the full extent of what practicum, as a tool, can really do for New Orleans,” he told The Louisiana Weekly. “CUC’s goal is to make constitutional policing a reality for every person living or working in New Orleans. We can only achieve this goal with the cooperation of the people who have been ignored and forgotten over the years.

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

This article originally published in the April 22, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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