‘Whites only’ complex houses bar where police attacked Blacks
7th September 2011 · 0 Comments
By Jordan Flaherty
The Louisiana Weekly
A recent settlement involving a “whites only” housing complex in Mid-City may have also provided background detail on a racist attack committed by New Orleans police officers a few years ago.
On Monday, August 29, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division reached a settlement in a case brought by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center against a Mid-city landlord who was caught on tape making racially discriminatory comments.
The landlord, Betty Bouchon, owns a 16-unit building at 4905 and 4919 Canal Street.
This is not the first time that 4905 Canal Street has been in the news. That address is also the site of the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, a bar that was a site of a notorious and violent racist attack during Mardi Gras in 2008.
According to witnesses, a group of Black transit workers entered the bar on February 5, 2008. The establishment was filled with white New Orleans Police Department officers, and they were apparently not happy about Black people being in the bar. The Black workers were subjected to racial slurs from officers, then taken outside and beaten. According to the NOPD’s own investigation, officers also illegally entered the car of one of the Black workers, planted a gun, and had him arrested.
The bar was apparently popular with the family of powerful individuals in the city’s criminal justice system. Among those at the bar that night were Laura Cannizzaro, an Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney, and daughter of the current DA Leon Cannizzaro.
Officer Travis Ward was also there that night. At the time, Ward was the live-in boyfriend of Mandy Serpas, daughter of NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas.
In eight years in the NOPD, Ward had been investigated seven times for improper or unethical behavior, including a drunk driving incident where he crashed an NOPD vehicle. Ward, who later married Serpas, has also drawn attention this year for his role in profiting from a company set up to review tickets issued by the city’s traffic cameras.
One of the officers who was fired from the NOPD for his involvement in the fight, David Lapene, was later hired by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro.
Lapene resigned after local media reported his involvement in the racist attack.
The news that the apartment complex had a ‘whites only’ policy has many in the community convinced that the incident at the bar may not have been an isolated incident, or a case of misunderstanding, or a case of “bad apples.”
According to a report from Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (who also recorded the conversations with the landlord):
“Ms. Bouchon refused to allow any Black mystery shoppers the opportunity to rent units, and made numerous racially discriminatory comments. At one point, Ms. Bouchon informed a white mystery shopper that she saw a Black girl who she thought was interested in seeing the apartment so she left the premises so that she would not have to show the unit to the Black girl. She later informed a white mystery shopper that the rental unit is located in “a safe neighborhood, one of the only safe ones left because we don’t have any Blacks here.” In the same meeting she advised the mystery shopper that a lot of Blacks were calling her about the apartment so she simply did not answer the phone.”
The Department of Justice released details of the settlement on the 29th, with the following statement:
“The Justice Department announced today that New Orleans landlords Betty Bouchon, the Bouchon Limited Family Partnership and Sapphire Corp., have agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle a lawsuit alleging they unlawfully denied housing to African-American prospective renters at a 16-unit apartment building located in New Orleans. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana…
“Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay $50,000 to GNOFHAC and a total of $20,000 in civil penalties to the United States. The settlement also requires the defendants to adopt non-discriminatory policies and procedures, keep detailed records of inquiries from prospective tenants and of rental transactions, and submit periodic reports over the four year term of the settlement. GNOFHAC filed a separate lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist and the author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six.
This article originally published in the September 5, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.