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NOPD consent decree moves forward

19th August 2013   ·   0 Comments

Despite the efforts of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to derail the process, implementation of the federally mandated NOPD consent decree moved forward on August 9.

“The time for delay is over,” U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan wrote in her Aug. 9 ruling. “The monitor plays a crucial role in the implementation of the consent decree, and its work must — after almost seven months — finally begin.”

The ruling comes more than a month after Judge Morgan selected Washington, D.C.-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter and Hampton as federal monitor of the NOPD consent decree over Chicago-based Hilliard Heintze.

Judge Morgan was required to select a federal monitor for the NOPD consent decree after a 10-member panel consisting of officials from the City of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Justice failed to agree on a firm to take on the lucrative contract. CNO officials had supported Hilliard Hei­n­tze while DOJ officials threw their support behind Sheppard Mullin, which submitted a $7.9 million bid.

The decision fell to Judge Morgan when the panel failed to carry ut its charge after a series of delays and postponements that delayed the decision for several months.

Grassroots organizations and civil rights groups were vocal in their criticism of Hilliard Heintze, which listed two local partners with ties to the Landrieu administration: Tulane University Dr. Peter Scharf and the Rev. Charles Southall, pastor of First Emanuel Baptist Church. Scharf has worked as an NOPD consultant and made negative comments about the NOPD consent decree in a New York Times article. The mayor paid Rev. Southall, who also owns a funeral home, $1,000 to pay for the funeral of Wendell Allen, an unarmed 20-year-old who was killed by an NOPD officer in his Gentilly home in March 2012. Allen’s funeral was held at First Emanuel Baptist Church, Southall’s church, last year and earlier this year First Emanuel was used by the Landrieu administration and New Orleans Police Department as the site of a meeting to talk about NOLA for Life and Black-on-Black violence on the same date and at the same time as a community meeting organized by the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP and other groups to talk about racial profiling after an incident in the French Quarter during which two Black teenagers were assaulted by NOPD officers and state troopers after attending a Carnival parade. The mayor initially agreed to meet with Black community leaders but later decided to organize his own meeting on the same date.

The NOPD consent decree was signed by the City of New Orleans more than a year ago but has still not been implemented.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu had nothing but praise for the NOPD consent decree when he agreed to it last summer calling it a “blueprint” for a complete overhaul of the city’s embattled police department.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan approved the NOPD consent decree in January and selected Sheppard Mullin as its federal monitor on July 5, 2013.

Judge Morgan said on August 9 that a senior team member of Sheppard Mullin must by physically present in New Orleans on every weekday, that the monitoring team cannot charge the city for overhead costs that the maximum amount a member of the monitoring team can pay for a single meal is $71. The judge also capped Sheppard Mullin’s bill at $8.5 million.

As the court-appointed monitor, the Sheppard Mullin team will be the eyes and ears of the United States District Court with respect to the NOPD’s efforts to implement the terms of the consent decree. The team will conduct audits and reviews and perform outcome assessments to ensure that the terms of the Consent Decree are accurately incorporated into the Department’s written policies, effectively presented to all personnel through training, and actually implemented in practice.

The Sheppard Mullin team will spend significant time on the ground in New Orleans monitoring police practices; reviewing policies, reports, and data; meeting with officers, officials, and members of the public; and conducting other assessments as required by the Consent Decree. The Team will issue regular reports, which will be submitted to the Court and made available to the public through the Team’s website, www.­consent­decreemonitor.com, and the Court’s website, www.la­ed.us­courts.­gov/­Con­sent/consent.htm.

Community United for Change, the grassroots organization that spearheaded meetings between DOJ officials and New Orleans residents to gather information on the NOPD’s unconstitutional policing, was elated with the news that the NOPD consent-decree implementation process is moving forward.

“CUC was pleased with Judge Morgan’s decision to move the Consent Decree forward,” the group said in a statement last week. “It was evident at the recent 5th Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, addressing the Intervention appeals of CUC, FOP and the Motion to Vacate the Consent Decree from the City of New Orleans, that the three-judge panel, led by Chief Justice Carl Stewart, was inflamed with futile claims and worthless accusations the City of New Orleans has placed before the court. The city’s attempt to lay most of the fault of an imperfect agreement at the feet of Sal Perricone poured gasoline on the flames of court.

“CUC has said in the past that the Consent Decree was far from what CUC felt is needed and light years from what the Findings Letter of DOJ’s investigation concluded. However, it is essential that some course of police reform be put into place to have at least a starting point. CUC continues to underscore the eminent need for residents and citizens of New Orleans to be on the cutting edge of any and all reforms implemented.”

CUC made it clear that the organization will continue to build and develop its own civilian oversight committee to ensure that the constitutional rights of New Orleans residents are not violated by members of the NOPD. The group is currently hosting training sessions and seminars. The group says the first weekend of training was a huge success and looks forward to continuing its efforts to police the police.

“It’s about time, the Rev. Raymond Brown. president of Nation Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly last week. “We can’t afford to let the mayor continue to get away with playing games with people’s lives and public safety. It’s time for him to stand up and do everything in his power to protect the constitutional rights of Black New Orleans residents.”

Mayor Landrieu issued a statement Monday night, August 12, in which he said he was “very concerned” about the cost of hiring Sheppard Mullin to serve as the NOPD consent-decree’s federal monitor.

“Every dollar we pay a high-priced monitor is a dollar we cannot spend on more police, NORD or fixing our streets,” Landrieu said. “If this firm had met the more competitive cost of the other proposal, the city would have saved $1.4 million. That’s $1.4 million that could have instead fully funded a new NOPD recruit class of 30 for a year, or an entire 12-week NORD summer swimming program, or the repair of more than 75,000 potholes. That’s why we are fighting so hard to negotiate the best value for the taxpayers.”

The mayor has said publicly that the city cannot afford to pay for the NOPD and OPP consent decrees and that his administration may have to cut city services to pay for these federally mandated consent decrees.

According to a press release dated August 16, “the Team’s primary responsibility is to monitor and report on the NOPD’s implementation of the Consent Decree. The Monitor is not intended to, nor is it permitted to, replace or assume the role and duties of the City or the NOPD. Neither is it the Monitor’s role to replace or duplicate the function of the City’s own Independent Police Monitor (“IPM”). The IPM maintains its current duties and responsibilities, including its responsibility to monitor the NOPD, receive citizen complaints alleging police misconduct, and issue public reports. Importantly, the IPM, not the court-appointed Consent Decree Monitor, will remain the primary New Orleans entity for receiving citizen complaints involving the NOPD through its website (www.nola­ipm.org), by email (policemonitor@nolaoig.org), or by phone at (504) 681-3217.

Those interested in learning more about the Court-appointed Consent Decree Monitor will be able to visit the Team’s website at www.consentdecreemonitor.com, which will be active shortly.

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the August 19, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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