Following a federal class action lawsuit filed last year by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and others, a settlement was reached with the state of Louisiana to remove hundreds of people from sex offender registries because of "crimes against nature" by solicitation (CANS) convictions.
Among the defendants in Doe v. Caldwell: Louisiana attorney general Buddy Caldwell, Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc, and Louisiana State Police Superintendent Michael Edmonson.
People convicted under Louisiana's centuries-old law against solicitation of "crimes against nature" no longer have to register as sex offenders, thanks to a law passed in 2011 that equalizes the penalties for prostitution and solicitation of "crimes against nature" (oral and anal sex) — but the law was not retroactive.
5 p.m. Thursday, June 6 update: The New Orleans Inspector General's office issued a report saying the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) is "adequately funded" and recommends that the city "not appropriate funds for the jail unless OPSO provides it with a detailed, functional budget that identifies the specific jail expenditures the revenues support." Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said in a statement, "The root cause is a dysfunctional structure that gives OPSO a blank check that the City must sign, and ensures that neither the City nor OPSO can be held wholly accountable for conditions in the Jail. The Jail will remain as it is until that structure is changed.”
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk approved a federal consent decree this afternoon between the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to address the controversial conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.
The consent decree, to be assessed and overseen by an independent monitor, is welcomed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, though he has repeatedly stressed that his office and the jail are run constitutionally. Gusman instead has claimed that the jail's conditions are due to a lack of funding and leadership from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city. Landrieu's office has objected to the consent decree, which his office argues will cost the city $110 million over five years.
Louisiana's House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs failed to pass a bill which would "prohibit discrimination in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression."
Authored by State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, who in 2011 introduced a bill to protect gay students from bullying, House Bill 85 would allow gay state employees who were discriminated against to appeal to the state Civil Service Commission. Current law allows discrimination appeals based on discrimination of political beliefs, sex or race and, provides for hearings and decisions in those cases. Current law does not include provisions for gay employees.
The Louisiana Family Forum argued the bill would create "a target-rich environment for lawsuits" and afford "special" rights to gay employees.
The committee voted 6-3 against the bill.
Today is May Day, or International Workers Day. In New Orleans, immigrant workers and their families and supporters plan to march to City Hall to demand better workers' rights and call for an end to deportations.
The Congress of Day Laborers and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice co-organized the event, which begins with a march at 11:30 a.m. at Armstrong Park. The march meets at the rally at 2:30 p.m. outside City Hall, where participants will call on New Orleans City Council members and Mayor Mitch Landrieu to prevent undocumented workers from being sent to Orleans Parish Prison.
Last month, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu addressed her position on same sex marriage as the U.S Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. U.S. Senate Democrats had only a handful of marriage equality opponents — Landrieu among them. Today, Indiana's Joe Donnelly and North Dakota's Heidi Heitkamp came forward in support.
Donnelly wrote the following on Facebook: "With the recent Supreme Court arguments and accompanying public discussion of same-sex marriage, I have been thinking about my past positions and votes. In doing so, I have concluded that the right thing to do is to support marriage equality for all."
"After speaking with North Dakotans from every corner of our great state, and much personal reflection, I have concluded the federal government should no longer discriminate against people who want to make lifelong, loving commitments to each other or interfere in personal, private, and intimate relationships," Heitkamp wrote. "The makeup of families is changing, but the importance of family is enduring."
Landrieu has not outright opposed the concept — she even has acknowledged the "progression" of public opinion and its influence. Last month, Landrieu told Buzzfeed that she feels "very strongly that people should be allowed to love who they love," but added, "unfortunately my state has a very strong ban against gay marriage constitutionally."
After a six-hour round of testimony in federal court over the Orleans Parish Parish consent decree, Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a brief press conference outside OPP's intake center in the shadow (and noise) of new facility construction. As he did last week following Mayor Mitch Landrieu's emergency City Council meeting on the OPP consent decree, Gusman slammed the mayor and defended the internal reforms at the sheriff's office — and addressed the content of a damning video of inmates at the now-closed House of Detention, which closed last year.
"That video from 2009 revealed in graphic detail the devastating effect of rumbling, outdated jail buildings that are lacking modern security measure," Gusman said. "The four-year-old images you saw reflect the old way of warehousing inmates. ... The actions taken in that video are unacceptable and despicable."
New Orleans Independent Police Monitor (IPM) Susan Hutson and Inspector General (IG) today presented to the New Orleans City Council's Criminal Justice Committee the results of two highly critical reports on the New Orleans Police Department's stop and frisk programs. The IG report, which examined 10,000 field interview cards generated over two months in 2011, concluded that because of sloppy and incomplete data-gathering on officer field interview cards, the office was unable to determine whether racial profiling was taking place during so-called "Terry stops," where officers briefly stop, detain and possibly search subjects. Under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1968 ruling in Terry v. Ohio, officers must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred to conduct a stop and frisk.
"This is something that is very much in the public eye. It's been in the public eye since I've been here," Hutson said.
NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas told the City Council today that citywide data shows that over the last year, only about 49 percent of field interview cards completed were for black male subjects.
("I don't think that African American men comprise 49 percent of the population of the city of New Orleans," said Louisiana ACLU director Marjorie Esman, responding during the public comment portion of the meeting. Serpas later responded that in 90 percent of violent crimes in New Orleans in 2011, victims and witnesses identified a black male suspect. More than 70 percent of victims, he added, were black. Further note: Public comment on the profiling issue became very contentious. At one point Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson told speaker Randolph Scott to "hush" after he criticized her. The audience booed in response. Clarkson [for some reason] decided to escalate, calling on a police officer to "quiet down" the crowd, which in fact had the opposite effect. Finally, District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry calmly said she wanted to "move on," and the meeting moved on.)
"About 70 percent of field interviews are done because the officer saw the circumstance and took action," Serpas said, and others occurred where citizen complaints were coming in.
Still, said Deputy Police Monitor Simone Levine in a phone interview with Gambit, a whistleblower informed auditors that, during the period in question, some police districts were submitting information for encounters that didn’t even involve suspicion criminal activity, such as interviews of traffic accident victims. There was no way to distinguish between those and cards generated from police stops.
“We can’t evaluate the data. We can’t say who exactly was stopped,” Levine said.
(More after the jump)
After weeks of demands from Danatus King, president of the NAACP's New Orleans chapter, Mayor Mitch Landrieu held a meeting to address community concerns about the New Orleans Police Department — specifically racial profiling — last night at First Emmanuel Baptist Church, a mere 2.6 mile drive from Christian Unity Baptist Church, where King simultaneously held a meeting on the same topic.
Like District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, I was able to attend both meetings, but because I'm unable to bend space, I could only attend the beginning of Landrieu's meeting and the end of the NAACP's meeting. The Times-Picayune's Andrew Vanacore and Richard Rainey can therefore provide a fairer, fuller account of both. Same goes for WWL-TV and WVUE.
I do have some pictures, though.
(More after the jump)
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.”
Under a proposed agreement filed today, the city of New Orleans will not be enforcing limits or bans on unsanctioned content appearing on non-commercial signs and banners within the Super Bowl "Clean Zone."
The agreement comes after the ACLU filed suit last week, challenging the ban as a violation of the First Amendment. Federal Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on sign enforcement except in the area directly around the Superdome.
Today's proposed agreement will dissolve the TRO — restoring the old boundaries of the Clean Zone. In return, the signage ban "shall apply to commercial activity only, and shall in no way be applied or enforced to encumber or burden noncommercial expressive activity," according to court records. And temporary signage will not be required to "consist of at least 60% Super Bowl/NFL branding, look and feel, and no more than 40% third party commercial identification," as the original ordinance demanded.
“What this does is essentially eliminate the First Amendment violations that were in this overbroad ordinance that the city adopted," said Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana's executive director.
(Side note: Meanwhile, one sanctioned sign that doesn't violate the original or rewritten law is so far getting a mixed reception from residents.)
In addition, the the ban on commercial advertising will only apply to "off-site" signs, that is, ads for products or services not affixed to their business' premises, as well as mobile ads. This part of the agreement results from the addition of real estate agent Andrew Grafe of French Quarter Realty. Grafe was concerned that the "For Sale" signs on his properties would be deemed violations of the ordinance.
(More after the jump)
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