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State Police commander grilled by N.O. City Council members

29th April 2013   ·   0 Comments

Less than two weeks after issuing a report that says the Louisiana State Police followed proper procedures during a Feb. 10 incident involving two Black teenagers in the French Quarter, the law enforcement agency’s commander faced intense scrutiny and questions from several members of the New Orleans City Council who apparently do not agree with the report’s conclusion. During Monday’s hearing, the State Police Superintendent fielded questions from several New Orleans City Council members and residents about the incident which occurred on Conti Street two days before Fat Tuesday.

“I believe the appropriate action was taken,” State Police Col Edmonson said Monday. “When you looked at the officers involved in this incident, they collectively have over 81 years of service and none of them have ever had a complaint of misuse of force.”

The entire incident was caught on tape by a crime camera in the 700 block of Conti Street and has led to a state legislative hearing on the incident, a very public feud between the Landrieu administration and Black leaders in New Orleans and urgent calls for an end to racial profiling.

The two teenagers involved in the incident—17-year-old Sidney Newman and 18-year-old Ferdinand Hunt — were reportedly waiting for Hunt’s mother, 8th District NOPD Officer Verna Hunt, to bring them a meal after attending a Carnival parade when they were confronted by eight plainclothes officers from the Louisiana State Police and at least one plainclothes NOPD officer. The teenagers are thrown to the ground by the officers before Officer Hunt returns and identifies the two teenagers. After Officer Hunt intercedes, the plainclothes officers are shown on the video departing as quickly as they descended upon the two teens.

Later, the officers would accuse Officer Hunt of interfering with the officers as they carried out their duties.

The Hunt and Newman families filed formal complaints with the FBI office in New Orleans on Feb. 15.

Louisiana State Police Colonel Mike Edmonson reviewed the findings of an internal investigation conducted by the State Police and said recently that the group of eight undercover state troopers acted appropriately when they ap?proached Newman and Hunt in the Quarter on February 10.

Officer Verna Hunt, Ferdinand Hunt and Sidney Newman did not cooperate with the State Police investigation.

Col. Edmonson has said the troopers suspected the two were juveniles and attempted to I.D. them.

Edmonson said the troopers identified themselves as state police, but one of the teens reached for his pocket and the other tried to flee. He said those actions led to the officers deciding to detain the teens and employ what Edmonson described as appropriate force.

“He didn’t punch him, he didn’t strike him, he didn’t kick him, he didn’t pull a weapon,” Edmonson said Monday, referring to one of the state troopers involved in the incident.

Col. Edmonson has insisted that race was never a factor and that he has viewed the videotape of the incident dozens of times to make sure the state troopers under his command did nothing wrong.

In an earlier story, Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt told FOX 8 they had no idea they were being approached and detained by state police.

The troopers did let the teens go with Officer Verna Hunt.

Colonel Edmonson said he has asked the NOPD to review Officer Hunt’s actions.

New Orleans City Councilmemb-ers Latoya Cantrell and Susan Guidry, disagreed with Edmonson’s assessment of the incident as well as the report’s findings, along with residents and a number of outspoken Black leaders. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas have also said they disagree with the report’s conclusion that the plainclothes officers did nothing wrong.

The Justice Department and the FBI are now reviewing the video.

Although council members Stacy Head and Jackie Clarkson are members of the Criminal Justice Committee, they did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Councilwoman Guidry said the NOPD was invited to attend but declined.

Guidry addressed the issue of race and the role skin color plays in law enforcement at Monday’s meeting. “This is a situation where what happened did involve two young African-American men,” she told Col. Edmonson. “It is certainly perceived as an issue, and it happened to be caught on video, which leads us all to question what are we not seeing when there’s no video.”

Edmonson told Guidry that he is not a racist.

“You were the officers, you said that they controlled the situation,” Councilwoman Cantrell told Edmonson. “I think that (the officers) were in control of the situation when they started. They used force — it appeared to be inappropriate. You asked about Officer Hunt—why did she insert herself. Well, you all started it.”

Some of the city’s Black leaders have argued that because the state police were performing duties that supported the NOPD during Carnival, they were under the jurisdiction of the NOPD and should be treated as such. Others have pointed out that a second NOPD officer can be seen in the complete video instructing the plainclothes officers to confront Newman and Hunt. That female officer, they point out, is embroiled in another racial incident involving a fight several years ago at a Canal Street bar involving white off-duty officers and RTA employees.

Hazel Newman, the mother of Sidney Newman, spoke at Monday’s meeting and voiced her disapproval of the report’s findings and questioned Col. Edmonson’s integrity. “When I thought about it, I came to the conclusion, Mr. Edmonson doesn’t truly believe what he said his eyes saw when he viewed the video,” she said.

In addition to calling for Col. Edmonson’s resignation, Mrs. Newman said the commander should put himself in the place of a parent whose child has been mistreated by law enforcement officers. “I understand that Colonel Edmonson has four children — which one would he like to see an officer throw around and sit on?” she asked.

“The question that begs to be asked is what is the City of New Orleans going to do in the future when big events like Jazz Fest, Essence and sporting events come to town and the NOPD is severely short-handed?” the Rev. Raymond Brown, president of National Action Now and a longtime community activist, told The Louisiana Weekly. “What are we going to do when the NOPD is short-handed and people are worrying about another incident like what happened in Boston? Since the mayor and the police chief have both said they disapprove of these state troopers’ actions, do we bypass the State Police altogether when another high-profile event comes to town or do we bring them in anyway and leave our residents — especially young Black males — at the mercy of law enforcement officers who have already gotten away with unconstitutional policing and excessive force?”

“It is unfortunate and I am sincerely sorry that Col. Edmonson feels it is proper to allow his officers to violate our children’s constitutional rights,” Hazel Newman said.

This article originally published in the April 29, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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