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.”
New Orleans will have nearly 14 months to prepare for the arrival of WRESTLEMANIA XXX (imagine that phrase in some awesomely '80s heavy-metal font, please), which will erupt in the Superdome on Apr. 6, 2014.
At The World's Loudest Press Conference this morning, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and tourism officials welcomed World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (better known as the WWE) for what they said was an event that would bring 125,000 participants to the city for one week next spring. WWE impresario Vince McMahon called it "a perfect tag team of WWE and New Orleans."
On hand were Rita Benson Leblanc, New Orleans Saints owner/vice-chairman; Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau; Mark Romig, president and CEO of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation; Jay Cicero, CEO of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation (who said before the event that he was "just getting over" the Super Bowl); Alan Freeman, Superdome general manager; councilwoman Jackie Clarkson and other local dignitaries.
But it was the WWE that brought the pizzazz, with wrestlers/entertainers Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and John Cena; WWE cheerleaders "The Funkadactyls"; and rapper Brodus Clay ("From his hizzle planet funk standing at a funktastic 6 feet 8 inches tall..."). Pictures and more under the jump.
Early this evening, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's office sent out a statement regarding the U.S. Department of Justice filing a motion in opposition to the City of New Orleans' recent motion to void the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree:
The DOJ’s filing today mischaracterizes our interactions over the last several years, especially as it relates to the OPP consent decree. We negotiated the NOPD decree in good faith, expecting the same from the DOJ. After extensive negotiations including cost considerations on the NOPD decree, the DOJ has demanded that the taxpayers of New Orleans fork over an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money for the prison decree. It is clear that both the prison and NOPD consent decrees cannot be paid for at this time without raising taxes or laying off or furloughing employees. And it does not make sense to lay off or furlough police officers so the Sheriff can hire more prison guards and pay them higher salaries.
In a response to the City of New Orleans' recent motion to void the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) consent decree, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today filed a motion in opposition, repeatedly citing Mayor Mitch Landrieu's many calls to reform the police department and arguing that the city has a responsibility to ensure constitutional policing, even if that will lead to increased costs for city government.
"In the past, the City has attempted to implement reforms to change NOPD’s culture without federal court intervention. None of the City’s efforts to reform NOPD on its own have been successful," reads an introductory passage in DOJ's response. "The people of New Orleans continue to seek meaningful, sustainable reform of the New Orleans Police Department, and until this recent dispute, New Orleans city leadership has been a strong supporter of this effort."
Late last month, the city moved to vacate the consent decree, a significant turnaround for Landrieu, who had been a leading proponent of federal intervention in the NOPD since he assumed office in 2010.
Read a 2010 letter from Landrieu to Attorney General Eric Holder: Ex._A.pdf
In its motion, the city alleged federal misconduct in the years-long lead-up to the agreement's final approval by U.S. DIstrict Court Judge Susie Morgan on Jan. 11.
The city's argument relied on three main points, including the involvement of disgraced former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone as a "point person" during negotiations. Perricone resigned his position last year after it was revealed he was anonymously posting belittling, and sometimes revelatory, comments on Nola.com related to cases his office was investigating or prosecuting. According to the city's motion, Perricone was an applicant for chief of police, a position he lost to Superintendent Ronal Serpas. As a result, the city claims, Perricone's often negative comments about the police department betrayed bias and a potential ulterior motive for his involvement in consent decree negotiations.
"These factual assertions by the City are egregiously distorted," says DOJ in its filing.
U.S. District Court Judge today denied a request by the City of New Orleans to delay implementation of the New Orleans Police Department consent decree. The city last week asked the court to put off the effective date of the decree until Morgan was able to rule on its motion to vacate, or void, the agreement altogether.
The Landrieu Administration contends that implementing the agreement immediately would put a burden on the city's finances, especially while funding for the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree — which could cost tens of millions of dollars — remains a question. But in her ruling, Morgan dismissed the argument, invoking the idea at the heart of the consent decree as a reason not to delay.
"The City fails to demonstrate that it is at risk of suffering irreparable harm if implementation of the Consent Decree is not stayed. The City and NOPD must comply with the U.S. Constitution and laws of the United States. To that end, the City has represented to the Court that it intends to move forward with reforming the NOPD so that it will be in compliance with all applicable laws," it reads. "Regardless of how such reform may be achieved,whether via collaboration between the United States and the City, or via another process, it will never be without cost."
A 2011 Department of Justice investigation into the NOPD provides evidence of unconstitutional policing, Morgan continues.
"...the United States and residents of New Orleans will suffer substantial harm to their interests in having a constitutional police force if the Court grants the City’s motion."
She further asserts that the city "has not made any showing whatsoever that it is likely to succeed on the merits of its Motion to Vacate."
The DOJ will not have to submit a response to the city's motion to void the agreement until Feb. 15. That is also the deadline for the formation of a city-federal evaluation committee that will select an applicant for the federal monitor contract, one of the larger consent decree costs with estimated value of $10 million over five years. Arguments for the motion to vacate are set for mid-March, just under a month before the current deadline — April 11, 90 days after the consent decree's effective date of Jan. 11 — to select the monitor.
Read the order: OrdertoStayDenied.pdf
Update (3:45 p.m.): I requested a response from Landrieu's office, along with a breakdown of major consent decree-related costs the city might face in the immediate future, earlier today. Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni responded with the following statement (after the jump).
Mayor Mitch Landrieu today said that the city will lobby for state legislation reducing the number of judges at Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.
"We have a responsibility to make sure we have enough money for the entire criminal justice system," Landrieu said. "I'm going to go to the legislature. We don't need six judges."
Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said the city hopes to trim the number of judges allowed by state law from six to three.
Landrieu's announcement to reporters came just after this morning's groundbreaking ceremony for the Juvenile Justice Center, where Chief Juvenile Court Judge Ernestine Gray criticized the design of the $32 million complex, which will accommodate only four judges. Gray said she was alerted to that feature of the center only yesterday.
"The mayor has talked about reducing the number of judges, and maybe this is one way of doing it," she said.
(More after the jump)
Many drivers, concerned they'll miss out on tourism business if they're not able to get an inspection soon, say the city hasn't done enough to improve service at its inspection station in eastern New Orleans.
Just after 10 a.m. today, lines of cabs at the inspection station, stretching from the inspection building around a long curved driveway, all the way out to Old Gentilly Road. The station is open only four hours per day, three days per week for new inspections, five days if a driver has to return for re-inspection.
"If you don't have the inspection tags, you don't work," said Mohammad Ashraf. "Then you come and sit here all day."
A driver standing nearby, who declined to give his name, said he had been waiting since 3:20 a.m.
Ashraf said he was there for a re-inspection after failing an initial inspection because of his car's paint job. Along with the fares he's lost waiting for his inspection, he said he's spent between $1,600 and $1,700 so far to come into compliance with the new rules. For drivers who've had to replace cars older than the city-mandated maximum of 11 years, costs can run significantly higher than that.
“It’s a big investment for each car," Syed Kazmi said. “It’s about $15,000 per cab.”
(More after the jump)
The New Orleans City Attorney's Office has filed a motion to void the New Orleans Police Department consent decree. The motion was filed late this afternoon, barely making the deadline U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan set when she signed the decree on Jan. 11.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a strong proponent of 492-point consent decree after it was unveiled last summer, recently changed course, citing the $55 million cost of implementation on top of expected costs associated with the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree, which was preliminarily approved by Judge Lance Africk on Jan. 22. The city indicated it would file a motion for relief when Morgan approved it this month.
The city's motion alleges misconduct on the part of DOJ in three areas, including the involvement of disgraced former Assistant United States Attorney Sal Perricone as a DOJ "point person" during negotiations.
Finally, the city makes a procedural argument, saying the court has denied it the right to withdraw from the consent decree, and noting that the court cannot force it to comply with a consent decree to which it does not consent.
From the city's memorandum in support:
—Failure to Disclose Costs to Fix Orleans Parish Prison (“OPP”) Until After NOPD Consent Decree Executed
With full knowledge of the City’s financial constraints, the DOJ waited until after the NOPD Consent Decree was executed to hit the City with DOJ’s estimate to implement the OPP consent decree.
—DOJ’s Designation of Sal Perricone as the U.S. Attorney’s “Point Person” During the NOPD Consent Decree Initial Investigation and Negotiations
Mr. Perricone attempted to become the Superintendent of Police during the Landrieu administration1 and his subsequent blogging related to Mayor Landrieu, Superintendent Ronal Serpas, the timeliness of the signing of the proposed consent decree, the appropriateness of a court-appointed police monitor, secondary employment (“paid details”), and the need for DOJ intrusion in the reform process. Reports have shown that Perricone was the originator of the comment that the paid detail system was the “aorta of corruption” in the NOPD.2 Such invective in a public forum by the DOJ’s representative who was engaged in the negotiations wholly undermines the integrity of the negotiation process.
—The Consent Decree’s Secondary Employment Provisions May Run Afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”)
During the negotiations, the DOJ insisted upon secondary employment provisions in the Consent Decree, which is particularly interesting in light of Mr. Perricone’s extreme focus in his blogs on “paid details.” Even more interesting is the fact that the City had already demonstrated its un-waivering commitment to reforming secondary employment by instituting certain important reforms before it even began negotiations with the DOJ, and secondary employment was not related to the constitutional policing issues the Consent Decree was intended to address.
The issue of whether those provisions are FLSA compliant remained pending and unresolved on January 11, 2013, when the Court reversed course and signed the original Consent Decree which it had previously indicated that it would not sign without modification.
"The city invited DOJ to participate in the reform of NOPD. The city originally believed that DOJ would be a partner with the city to improve the NOPD. This belief no longer exists, and justifiably so," it says.
Reached by email, mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni declined to elaborate on the filing or provide further comment, writing only that the document speaks for itself.
Read the memorandum in support and check back for updates: ConsentMemo.pdf
(Details from the court filings after the jump)
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