Wednesday, May 9, 2012

SPLC court filing accuses OPSO deputies of harassing witnesses

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2012 at 11:48 AM

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which last month filed a federal lawsuit against Marlin Gusman and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO), last week requested an emergency status conference before U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk. The group claims that the sheriff's office has been harassing inmates involved in the suit.

In supplemental pleadings, filed Monday, May 7 and Tuesday, May 8, SPLC attorneys further claim that one inmate has been subject to criminal charges as a result of his late April witness statement in the suit.

The motion comes one week after the group filed for a preliminary injunction against the sheriff's office, alleging that OPSO has violently retaliated against inmates. One witness, who says he was raped by a group of guards, has since been charged with criminal mischief — for making false statements, the SPLC says — after special operations division investigators allegedly interrogated him without a lawyer present. The inmate says that he was intimated into recanting the rape claim.

(More after the jump)

From the SPLC's filing:

Since the filing of the Complaint and particularly in the days since Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the Defendants, through their deputies, guards, and Special Operations Division officers (“SOD”), have attempted to threaten or coerce Plaintiffs and witnesses into recanting their statements allegedly under the pretext of “investigating” allegations of violence at the prison. Specifically, the Defendants have: isolated a witness and confronted him with threats and false information until he recanted his statements, and charged him with “criminal mischief” for allegedly making false statements;3 threatened violence to witnesses who have spoken with Plaintiffs’ attorneys and their investigators; and threatened to let other prisoners attack witnesses for speaking to Plaintiffs’ attorneys and their investigators.

The following witnesses have been subjected to intimidation, harassment, and threats of violence:

On May 2, 2012, SOD asked me questions about what happen [sic]. They videotaped the interview. They told me I was putting people’s lives in danger for telling my story and that according to my medical records it was impossible for me to have been assaulted. They said that other guys from the tier said I made the story up so I wouldn’t get sent to Old Parish Prison. They made me feel like no one would ever believe me. For the whole interview, I kept telling them the same thing I told my lawyers the week before ... I felt really intimidated and scared the whole time with SOD. Finally I asked one of the SOD if I was going to get charged. He said he didn’t know, but that I hadn’t admitted I had made it up yet. I [was] scared so I said I made it up. I didn’t know what else to do. I did not make up the story. Those officers really hurt me and no one stopped it. Now SOD is making me feel like I have done something wrong.

OPSO has not yet filed a response to the allegations. Gambit has requested comment from Gusman's office and is awaiting a response.

Update: Gusman spokesman Marc Ehrhardt has issued the following statement in regard to the inmate's claims of rape and intimidation:

“After independent review and investigation, it was determined that [the inmate's] claims were false. We have no further comment on the case at this time."

Gusman's legal team also filed a response to the allegations. Here's the introduction to that:

Plaintiffs’ filed a request for a status conference on May 3, 2012, alleging that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office was intimidating their witnesses. As ordered by the Court, this is defendants’ response to those allegations.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has the responsibility and obligation to fully investigate all allegations of crimes committed within the Orleans Parish Prison System. These investigations are always conducted independently, whether the evidence supports charges against the inmate or the deputy. As is typical of plaintiffs’ pleadings there are no facts to support these claims, much less sufficient information for defendants’ to properly respond to the Court’s order.

The rest is available here. (Note: We have removed the name of the inmate who claims he was sexually assaulted): GusmanResponds.pdf

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