Woes continue for NOPD and New Orleans city officials
4th August 2014 · 0 Comments
With the NOPD under a federally mandated consent decree and the City of New Orleans struggling to replace officers who have left the embattled department, things haven’t gotten easier for the Landrieu and Serpas administration over the past two weeks. During that time span, the city and NOPD officials continue to deal with the continuing fallout from the recent Bourbon Street shootings and multiple officer suspensions as well as a court ruling that places the department in a negative light and an alleged $20,000 incident involving state troopers and a popular New Orleans musician.
Late last month, a state court of appeal ordered the City of New Orleans to pay $20,000 in legal bills and fees for withholding police reports from a legal group that lends assistance to individuals involved in death-penalty cases. The NOPD initially told an employee with the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center in 2011 that some of the requested files were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal ultimately awarded Ethan Brown, the employee who made the request for police reports, $20,344 for court costs and fees.
This past November, the NOPD was ordered to pay $8,000 after wrongfully denying a records request from the Innocence Project New Orleans.
On Tuesday, NOPD Officer Willie Gant, a 26-year veteran, was placed on emergency suspension without pay and charged with two counts of indecent behavior with juveniles and two counts of sexual battery of a juvenile.
Gant, who was most recently assigned to the NOPD’s 8th District, was the fourth officer suspended in a month and the second in two days.
Gant’s attorney, Patrick Giraud, told NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune that his client “vehemently” denies the charges against him.
Giraud says investigators served a search warrant on Gant’s home Tuesday evening.
He would not say what the NOPD officers were looking for, but said Gant shares the home with his wife and four young children.
Meanwhile, in a news story dated July 28, WWL-TV reported that New Orleans trumpeter Shamarr Allen says he was on his way home from a music performance when state troopers forced him to pull over, threatened him with a gun, pulled him out of his car, and forced him to the ground before finally allowing him to leave.
The incident reportedly took place about 2 a.m. on July 23 near the intersection of Caffin Avenue and Chartres Street in the Lower 9th Ward.
Louisiana State Police told WWL-TV that they were in the area to search for an inmate who escaped from their custody while he was being processed at NOPD’s 8th District police station.
Video footage from the night of the incident shows several state police cars blocking the street and troopers knocking on doors.
Allen told WWL News that he saw the blockade after dropping off a friend after a show, so he turned around. Before he knew what happened, he went from being an innocent motorist to a prime suspect.
“They got behind me and put their lights on. I pulled over as usual thinking it was a regular traffic stop and police were like, ‘Get out of the car. Turn the car off, put your hands up.’ I put my hands up,” Allen told WWL-TV. “Before I could get out of the car, one officer grabbed my hand, and pulled my hand all the way behind my back like to the window of the car. Another police officer walked up to the car, ‘You move one time, I’m going to blow your head off.’”
Allen said that after a state trooper put a gun in his face. several others pulled him from the car and forced him to the ground, scratching his arms and legs.
“One of them is stepping on my face, literally, holding me down, put handcuffs on me,” Allen said.
The trumpeter said state troopers detained him for a nerve wracking 20 to 30 minutes. But once they ran his records, they simply let him go.
“In my head I’m like, ‘Maybe this is how it’s going to end for me,’” Allen said.
Lt. J.B. Slaton, LSP public affairs executive officer, told WWL-TV that state troopers pulled Allen over, removed him from his car and forced him to the ground, in a controlled manner, before handcuffing him. He said that once they were able to determine that he was not the escaped inmate, they released him.
Troopers say their actions were justified and that dash cam video shows they did not pull out a gun, step on Allen’s face, or use excessive force.
“The driver, later identified as Mr. Allen, was uncooperative, didn’t identify himself when the troopers asked. He didn’t show the troopers his hands. He had his hands in the location where the troopers didn’t know if there were any weapons present,” Slaton told WWL-TV.
“I didn’t resist, I didn’t fight back, I didn’t tell them I wasn’t doing anything,” Allen responded.
Allen, 33, has recorded several CDs and performed around the world.
He has performed for President Barack Obama and has lent his musical talents, time and energy to a host of charity events and youth mentoring programs.
Still, Allen said that last month’s incident was not the first time he’s been pulled over by the cops and released. This time was simply the worst.
“That’s just, again, the life of a Black guy, that looks like me, dresses like me, talks like me,” Allen said.
State police told WWL that they have tried to reach out to Allen since the incident, through his public relations specialist, but have yet to hear back.
Allen said state police have not contacted him, although he says NOPD heard about the incident and asked him to file a complaint with the Public Integrity Bureau to be forwarded to state police. Slaton says state police will only investigate first-person complaints.
Now, Allen said last week that he just wants an apology and plans to file a formal complaint.
WWL-TV said Monday that it has filed a public records request for the dash cam video from the incident and is awaiting a response.
For some, the Allen incident brings to mind another racial profiling case involving state troopers. Last year, two Black teens were racially profiled and assaulted by plainclothes state troopers in the French Quarter over the Mardi Gras weekend. Ferdinand Hunt and Sidney Newman were waiting for one of the boys’ mother, who was an NOPD Officer, to bring them a meal after a Carnival parade when they were surrounded by plainclothes state troopers and forced to the ground.
After the incident, the Landrieu administration and NOPD officials denied any involvement by local police in the incident, although video footage was released that showed a white female NOPD officer instructing the plainclothes state troopers to confront the teens.
The families of both teens have filed formal complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice.
In other NOPD-related news, an officer faces domestic abuse charges and has been placed on emergency suspension after she was arrested July 27.
Police said that Officer Stephanie Caldwell was involved in an altercation about 3:30 a.m. on July 27 in the 1700 block of North Broad Street, FOX News reported.
During the incident, police say Caldwell attempted to strike a 47-year-old man with her vehicle. As the victim attempted to flee from Caldwell, police say she drove against traffic to pursue the man, striking a parked car on Onzaga Street before crashing into a wooden post. The wooden post was reportedly broken in half the impact of the crash left the police car inoperable, authorities said.
After undergoing alcohol and drug testing and receiving medical clearance, the NOPD Public Integrity Bureau arrested and booked Caldwell with aggravated assault, simple battery, reckless operation of a vehicle, hit & run and driving against traffic.
The victim, whose name was not released, was not injured in the incident.
Caldwell was immediately placed on emergency suspension without pay pending the outcome of a Public Integrity Bureau investigation.
Caldwell is a 10-year veteran of the NOPD and was most recently assigned to the Special Operation Division Tactical Unit.
This article originally published in the August 4, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.