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)
Update (4:30 p.m.): U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted in part a temporary restraining order, banning the enforcement of Clean Zone provisions banning non-sanctioned signs and banners. Engelhardt's order, however, does not apply to areas directly around the Superdome. Thus, the Clean Zone, which once roughly extended from Earhart Boulevard to Port Street, and Broad Street to the West Bank levee, an area that looks like a wolf...
...will now only be in effect here, per Engelhardt's order:
The area bounded by Earhart Boulevard to Loyola Avenue; Loyola Avenue to Tulane Avenue; Tulane Avenue to North Broad; and North Broad to Earhart Boulevard; and including the Louisiana Superdome Property (Champion Square), and the New Orleans Arena.
The ACLU today filed suit against the city of New Orleans seeking a halt to the implementation of the so-called "Clean Zone," set to go into effect on Monday, Jan. 28. The city's Clean Zone ordinance, passed by City Council in early December, bans signs, "inflatables, cold air balloons, banners, pennants, flags, building wraps, A-frame signs, projected image signs, electronic variable message signs" except for those sanctioned by the city and the National Football League in the Central Business District and surrounding areas until Feb. 5, two days after the game.
The ACLU alleges that these provisions of the law are unconstitutional.
(More after the jump)
The New Orleans-based lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) youth advocacy group BreakOUT! is demanding that the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) release to the group a long-awaited policy addressing LGBT discrimination by police in a petition on Change.org. BreakOUT! is also asking NOPD representatives, including Superintendent Ronal Serpas, meet with members of the group before releasing a final policy.
From the petition site:
"Over a year ago, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) first made a promise to BreakOUT! to meet with them before finalizing an LGBTQ policy in the NOPD. In an October 2012 City Council meeting, NOPD representatives again promised to meet with BreakOUT! before finalizing a policy. BreakOUT! also submitted their own model LGBTQ policy for the NOPD's consideration on this date."
"They were notified on December 3, 2012 that an LGBTQ policy was in its final stages in the NOPD and that once it was finalized, a meeting would be scheduled with them for review. They still have not heard back from your Department."
Reached by phone this morning, NOPD spokeswoman Remi Braden could not comment immediately as she was unaware of the petition.
A legacy that extends far beyond food runs through the dining rooms of Dooky Chase Restaurant, a landmark of the civil rights struggle, a trove of African American art and a daily example of the power of community.
As the Chase family prepares to celebrate the 90th birthday of their matriarch, the legendary chef Leah Chase, they are planning a pair of public events to honor her and raise funds for a new foundation to ensure that legacy endures.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) today unveiled a 53-page proposed consent decree addressing longstanding safety issues at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). The decree was filed in U.S. District Court by DOJ, the Sheriff's Office and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented the plaintiff class in the class-action lawsuit filed against the jail and Sheriff Marlin Gusman last spring. Court records indicate that The city of New Orleans, which would ultimately be responsible for funding the provisions of the agreement, did not sign off on the filing, court records show.
The filers have requested a Feb. 19 fairness hearing on the consent decree before Judge Lance Africk, who would then have to sign off to give it the force of law. Africk would then have to determine how much funding would be required to enforce the consent decree.
Like the proposed New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree, today's settlement requires a federal monitor to follow OPSO's progress toward compliance. Unlike that one, though, which has a four-to-five year recommended expiration date, the OPP consent decree would expire "when Defendant has achieved substantial compliance with each provision of the Agreement and have maintained Substantial Compliance with the Agreement for a period of two years," the document reads.
(More after the jump)
The proposal, which will be submitted as part of an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the jail, will be due to the court by October 15. As we reported last spring, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit on behalf of all Orleans Parish Prison inmates in April:
The alleged details of daily life in OPP — including charges of dangerously overfilled cells, inadequate medical care and a culture of indifference to the inmates' welfare on the part of guards, supervisors, wardens, all the way up to Gusman himself — have inundated SPLC's office. On an average day, OPP is home to more than 3,200 inmates, or the equivalent of nearly 1 percent of New Orleans' total population.
In an interview for that story, SPLC attorney Katie Schwartzmann said the evidence against the Sheriff's Office was "overwhelming."
Attached to the 38-page lawsuit are 19 affidavits signed by current or former inmates, including 10 named plaintiffs. The witnesses paint a picture of an institution where brutal violence is the norm, with little intervention from guards, and where medical attention arrives late if at all.
The federal government has been negotiating an agreement with the Sheriff's Office for more than a year, following several years of federal scrutiny. Last month, Justice intervened in the lawsuit. Africk has also granted a request from Gusman that the city of New Orleans — which controls the the sheriff's budget — be named as a third-party defendant.
God's speed, Rodrigue
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