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The Ehrhardt Group, the public relations firm that represents the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, issued a press release Friday afternoon on the death of inmate Ricky Russell, the subject of our lead news story in this week's Gambit.
The release doesn't contain answers to the inquiries we submitted last week, including whether security staff conducted rounds on Russell's floor and where Russell was located relative to inmates making claims that he was acting strangely the night before his death. Nor had the sheriff's office, as of Friday, handed over records — including deputy assignment sheets and supervisor sign-in logs — it says it reviewed following Russell's death. (Gambit submitted records requests for the documents on Feb. 15.)
From the press release:
However, the press release does provide some additional details. It also directly disputes inmate Jaime Hernandez's claim that Russell was laughing throughout the evening and into the early morning:
5) Inmate Hernandez alleges being awake during the night and hearing inmate Russell. He also alleges that the security officers arriving to assist in reviving inmate Russell “were the first deputies that I saw since roll call the night before.”
a) The three inmates housed in the cells next to inmate Russell dispute inmate Hernandez’s account, stating that the tier was quiet throughout the night and that inmate Russell went to sleep following the 10 pm news. These inmates and others on the tier confirmed that inmate Russell was not yelling, screaming or causing any other disturbance, as inmate Hernandez falsely alleges.
b) Out of 33 inmates housed on this tier during the night of Feb. 6, only three, including inmates Hernandez and Groves, claim to have heard a disturbance.
c) An OPSO deputy was assigned to oversee the protective custody tier, according to OPSO staffing guidelines. This deputy conducted evening roll call, in which all inmates participated and were present, including inmate Russell. This deputy then moved to the supervision module, where the deputy monitored the tier throughout the night. In addition, an OPSO sergeant conducted a security check on this tier between 11 pm and midnight on Feb. 6. Both the OPSO deputy on station and the OPSO sergeant noted that the tier was quiet and found nothing out of the ordinary. All of these activities were noted in the OPSO log book.
(Read the full press release after the jump)
Director-producer Ben Affleck's Argo took the top honor at the 85th Academy Awards last night with a victory in the Best Picture category. Daniel-Day Lewis became the first three-time winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his work in Lincoln, and Jennifer Lawrence took Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook. The evening's best moments? Lawrence recovering gracefully after falling on the steps up to the stage to accept her award; a 76-year-old Shirley Bassey absolutely killing it with a performance of her '60s classic "Goldfinger"; and nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, Oscar-nominated star of New Orleans' own Beasts of the Southern Wild, flexing her formidable muscles whenever the camera came her way.
A complete list of the winners is available here.
Player Hating: A Love Story is a documentary by New Orleans filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West that tracks hip hop artist Half-a-Mill and his Crown Heights, Brooklyn crew as they try to use music to rise above poverty and violence. A free screening will be held tonight, Sunday, February 24, at 6 p.m. at HeadQuarters Barber & Beauty Salon, 1101 N. Broad St. at Ursulines in Mid-City. More information here and here.
Gov. Bobby Jindal appeared with Mass Gov. Deval Patrick this morning on Meet the Press, discussing the sequester, the federal budget and taxes. Jindal also discussed what the GOP has to do to appeal to voters, talked about his support for "traditional marriage," and told President Barack Obama to "stop campaigning . . . . Roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of governing."
Takeaway quote: "Nobody in the Republican party should be thinking about running for president."
Tales of social injustice always seem a perfect fit for a long-form documentary film, where complex stories given cursory or sensationalized coverage in the news media can finally receive their due. The Central Park Five takes its correction a step further by illuminating a tragic series of events that were set in motion — at least in part — by the lazy or indifferent reporting of professional journalists working in the news capital of the world.
On the night of April 19, 1989, a woman who would be known for years only as the “Central Park Jogger” was brutally raped, beaten and left for dead. At approximately the same time, a group of about 30 teenage boys entered the park, and at least a few of them behaved violently, assaulting several people in random encounters. Their crimes were bad enough to attract the New York Police Department, which rounded up some of the boys and brought them in for questioning. When news of the crime against the jogger, who was white, arrived at the precinct, detectives decided the boys, who were black and Latino and mostly 14 or 15 years old, were responsible despite a near-total lack of evidence. Although later proved innocent, the “Central Park Five” each spent between six and 13 years in prison thanks to a racially charged and media-fueled wave of anti-crime hysteria that swept New York City at the time.
MORE AFTER THE JUMP...
Stephanie Grace was on last night's Informed Sources, discussing her Gambit cover story "Jindal and the Pill," as well as Ray Nagin's appearance in federal court this week. Also on the panel: Informed Sources producer Errol Laborde, WWL-TV anchor Dennis Woltering, The Lens' investigative reporter Tyler Bridges and moderator Larry Lorenz. The video isn't embeddable, but you can watch it at WYES-TV's website.
Big Class is a local organization that runs literacy programs in which children create books from writing content through publishing. The group's next project is to run a writing and tutoring center at 3718 St. Claude Avenue (below Antenna Gallery). There are two open houses (noon-3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, and 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28) at which parents and children can get information about the program and sign up. Participation is free, and volunteers also can sign up at the two open houses. There's more info here.
Upcoming after-school programs start March 12. Each program starts with homework help, and each has an eight week workshop followed by a four-week book-making project.
Tuesday features a jazz centered project for 10-14 year olds. The program incorporates music, poetry and visual art.
Wednesday features a food and memory theme for 10-14 year olds. Students write reviews and essays and take photographs.
Thursday's project is a newspaper for 6-14 year olds. Students will create all sections of a community newspaper.
Sundays are open to 6-18 year olds, and each week will feature a different workshop topic.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu predicted last month that he and Sheriff Marlin Gusman would have a falling out over the cost of the proposed federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). It’s time for that fight to happen, and not just because of money.
City Hall and the sheriff’s office have long had a testy relationship, owing largely to the fact that the city must pay a huge chunk of the sheriff’s budget without any say in how the jail is run.
Now the stakes are much higher than money. The feds last year joined a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against Gusman, alleging that he runs a jail so devoid of human decency, safety and security that it is unconstitutional. The pleadings paint a picture of a prison that rivals those of Third World countries. Some examples:
• Since January 2006, at least 39 people have died while in Gusman’s custody. An alarming number were suicides and drug-related.
• Yearly since 2008, independent experts and/or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have concluded that OPP is unsafe, unsanitary, medically unsound, poorly managed — and that’s just the beginning. Gusman denies the reports, saying they are based on “patient reports and inmate accounts.” Duh. Who else would know how bad conditions are? Last year, DOJ joined the SPLC suit to fast track the process of having conditions at the jail declared unconstitutional.
• In 2012, a review panel on prison rape singled out OPP for its “apparent culture of violence” and recommended that OPP “review the quality of the services it provides to victims of sexual assault.”
• Also last year, DOJ wrote in a letter to Gusman, “Despite our findings and repeated attempts to encourage you to meaningfully address numerous problems, the already troubling conditions [at OPP] are deteriorating.” The same letter cites “alarming conditions … [that] persist or have worsened.”
(route details below the jump!)
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