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May 14 is new deadline for choosing NOPD consent-decree monitor

6th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

Responding to requests from officials from the City of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal judge on Tuesday morning agreed to give the 10-member panel charged with selecting a NOPD consent decree monitor an additional two weeks to make a final decision. The new deadline is Tuesday, May 14. The original deadline for choosing a monitor was Tuesday, April 30.

Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the panel had whittled the finalists down from nearly a dozen to two: Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze and Washington, DC-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton. The 10-member panel is comprised of CNO and DOJ officials.

The Landrieu administration has favored Hil­liard Heintze, whose proposal will cost the city $7.2 million, while DOJ officials have sided this far with Sheppard Mullin, whose bid was $7.9 million.

On Monday, the panel told U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan that it was closer to making a final selection but needed more time. Although the panel did not provide a lot of details, it did indicate to Judge Morgan that the evenly divided panel was closer to reaching an agreement.

If the panel had failed to reach a decision by April 30, the decision would have gone to Judge Morgan to decide between the remaining two firms. Judge Morgan will have the task of choosing a federal monitor if the panel fails to reach a decision by May 14.

The Louisiana Weekly reported several weeks ago that Community United for Change and a number of other groups and individuals expressed reservations about the ties some members of Hilliard Heintze had to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sen. Mary Landrieu, among them the Rev. Charles J. Southall, senior pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church.

In a letter on behalf of CUC, civil rights attorney Bill Quigley told Judge Morgan that Hilliard Heintze community partner Rev. Charles Southall’s relationship with the mayor would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the minister to be fair or objective as a member of the firm monitoring the implementation of the NOPD consent decree.

The mayor reportedly paid Gaskin Southall Gordon Mortuary, the funeral home owned by Southall and several others, $1,000 on March 15, 2012 to pay for the funeral of NOPD shooting victim Wendell Allen last year and First Emanuel Baptist Church was used to host one of two meetings held on March 25 to discuss racial profiling. After agreeing to meet with civil rights leaders about racial profiling, the mayor decided to hold his own meeting on the same date and at the same time as the community meeting at Christian Unity Baptist Church and expanded the agenda to include a discussion of Black-on-Black violence and the mayor’s NOLA For Life program.

Southall also was tapped to deliver the invocation at Mayor Landrieu’s inauguration in May 2010 and donated $4,600 to Sen. Mary Landrieu’s campaign in 2008.

Tulane University professor Dr. Peter Scharf served as a member of Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s Criminal Justice Team Task Force and has been critical of the NOPD consent decree and what it will mean for the department’s rank-and-file members in a New York Times article dated July 25, 2012. Scharf told the NYT that NOPD officers are concerned that the federally mandated decree “targets the officers in New Orleans, not works with them” and worried that the reforms will require the city to “dismember” its police department.

At a meeting last month, New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell read from a letter sent to her by Chicago civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor Jr. that questions former Chicago Police Department Supt. Terry Hilliard’s suitability for the job. In the letter, Taylor describes a culture of violence and corruption in the Chicago P.D. that led to the torturing of Black suspects, the wrongful arrest and detention of a seven- and eight-year-old Black boy in a murder case and a host of federal lawsuits against the City of Chicago that resulted from those violations. The total thus far is $17 million with two cases still pending.

“[H]e (Supt. Terry Hilliard) was not viewed as an agent of significant change or reform while serving as the Superintendent of 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 told Howell. “…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.”

In a letter to Judge Morgan last month, Mary Howell told the Court that she had “serious doubts” about Hilliard Heintze.

“I would hope that the monitor position would be filled by someone who has a demonstrated record of identifying and resolving civil rights issues in police departments, particularly patters of misconduct,” Howell wrote. “Based upon the information which I have received to date regarding Mr. Hilliard, I have serious doubts as to whether he would be effective as the monitor for the New Orleans consent decree.”

Meanwhile, the battle over the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree continues to roll on. Mayor Landrieu and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman took more shots at one another last week as the mayor continues to seek to either get out of paying for the OPP consent decree or place the jail under federal receivership. The mayor has openly questioned the sheriff’s ability to manage and reform the troubled jail, while the sheriff has said repeatedly that OPP’s problems stem from the Landrieu administration’s failure to adequately fund the jail.

“This battle over funding and the problems under-funding causes were inherited by and not caused by Sheriff Gusman,” Sheriff Gusman contends in court papers filed last week. “The city cannot continue to balance its budget on the back of the sheriff and the United States Constitution.”

Efforts to “place the blame for the present situation on Sheriff Gusman, much less to suggest he should be stripped of virtually all powers and responsibilities of the office to which he was elected by the citizens of New Orleans, is patently wrong,” Gusman added in last week’s court brief.

In addition to seeking to convince U.S. District Judge Lance Afrik to place OPP under federal receivership until jail reforms are completed and to reduce the cost of bringing the jail up to code, the mayor has also asked U-S. District Judge Susie Morgan to throw out the NOPD consent decree, which the mayor signed last year and Judge Morgan approved in January 2013.

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

This article originally published in the May 6, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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