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NOPD consent-decree selection process hits another snag

17th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

After four delays and several rounds of legal wrangling, it became obvious to the Federal Court and the public last week that the 10-member panel charged with the task of selecting a federal monitor for the implementation of the NOPD consent-decree is incapable of fulfilling its duty. The panel, consisting of U.S. Department of Justice and City of New Orleans officials, said as much at a June 13 meeting which represented its last chance to name a monitor before that task would be forwarded to the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.

The two finalists for the post of monitor are Chicago-based Hilliard Heintz and Washington, DC-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton. DOJ members of the panel favored Sheppard, while CNO officials favored Hilliard Heintze.

A number of community and civil rights groups, including Community United for Change, the Black Star Line Division #466 of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and Safe Streets/Strong Communities oppose the candidacy of Hilliard Heintze because of its use of two local partners — the Rev. Charles Southall III and Tulane University criminologist Dr. Peter Scharf — with ties to the Landrieu administration and Sen. Mary Landreu. Others, like civil rights attorney Mary Howell, pointed out the dismal civil rights record of Hilliard Heintze primary partner Terry Hilliard, a former Chicago police chief. With Hilliard leading the Chicago Police Department, Black suspects were routinely tortured by cops and a seven- and eight-year-old Black boy were wrongfully arrested and detained for the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl until a serial rapist confessed to the crime. According to Chicago civil rights attorney G. Flint Taylor, the City of Chicago has already agreed to pay $17 million in settlements in federal civil rights lawsuits, with two cases still pending.

In Thursday’s meeting at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the Landrieu administration tried to pave the way for a compromise that would allow Hilliard Heintze to get the contract but add outside members from other firms, including two from Sheppard. It added that it would scrap the names of Charles Southall and Peter Scharf from the firm’s team.

DOJ officials swatted down those proposals, pointing out that Hilliard Heintze has no experience as federal monitors.

“If you don’t realize the importance of having monitoring and civil rights experience, that speaks to the judgement of those that are organizing that team,” U.S. Deputy Asst, Attorney General Roy Austin said. “The bottom line is that he Hilliard) has never monitored a police department before. Being a chief of a very large police department is very different from being a monitor of a police department.”

CUC member W.C. Johnson asked Judge Susie Morgan if she would consider each of the original 10 finalists for the post of federal monitor.

“Since there was no meeting of the minds, the 10 applicants dismissed by the Selection Committee need to be considered by the Court to determine if the Selection Committee overlooked anything,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “The Court should be free to put everything back on the table in order to make an informed and intelligent decision.”

Members of the 10-member panel requested and were granted three delays in selecting a monitor and a fourth delay was caused by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decision to temporarily halt the NOPD consent decree while it considered a challenge from the Landrieu administration to throw it out. The selection of an NOPD consent-decree monitor was originally scheduled for April 30.

Robert Goodman Jr., the brother of 2006 NOPD fatal shooting victim Ronald Goodman, told the selection panel Thursday that he is among the many residents who are tired of waiting for the panel and the NOPD to get their act together. “I truly hope that you all find a way to work this out, but please include the community,” Goodman said.

“People are dying out here as the mayor and his lawyers play games with people’s lives,” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Since he signed the NOPD consent decree and it is his duty to uphold the Constitution, it is time for Mayor Mitch Landrieu to put the safety and civil and human rights of New Orleans residents above his own agenda and petty politics.”

The Rev. Tom Watson, senior pastor of Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries, said in an interview Tuesday that the Landrieu administration needs to step up and pay for the NOPD and OPP consent decrees. “They need to pay for it, the mayor put it out there,” he said. “It’s not just Black folks impacted by the consent decree; it’s also white business owners. It’s the white community too — they get harassed, tourists get harassed as well. It’s not just us — we’re disproportionately impacted by it. It is not unreasonable that the city would pay for it because it ought to be a priority for doing good business, it ought to be a priority for saying to all the citizens of New Orleans that we are serious about reform and transformation. On one hand, you want all the tourists to come here but you don’t care about how our everyday people are being treated by a dysfunctional police department and a dysfunctional prison.”

Watson pointed to the Feb. 10, 2013 French Quarter incident during which plainclothes officers assaulted two Black teenagers as solid proof that this city’s police department is still in dire need of a major overhaul. “That’s a classic example of racial profiling and the problems we have been having in this city forever with police,” Watson told The Weekly. “I am not comfortable when these young cops stop me, Black or white. They’re not fully trained. They need true education and training on an ongoing basis to have sensitivity to how to deal with the neighborhoods.

“The police department is disconnected from the neighborhoods unless you’re paying for their services through private patrols,” Watson added. “They’re disconnected, they don’t know us. These young cops don’t know me, they don’t know you, they don’t know the average persons who are doing stuff in this city. They’re just there collecting a check. …They don’t understand that taxpayers pay their salaries, but they mistreat us all the time.”

Additional reporting by Louisiana Weekly editor Edmund W. Lewis.

This article originally published in the June 17, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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