“I think we’re doing pretty good without the consent decree.”
That was Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman's assessment of operations at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP).
Gusman took the witness stand today, and under cross-examination by former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg — who is on the city of New Orleans' legal team — he categorically denied the allegations of expert witnesses and inmates who appeared in U.S. District Court over the past three days, all arguing in favor of a proposed federal consent decree for OPP.
On Monday, Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, an expert on prison operations expert Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, called OPP "likely the worst big city jail in the United States," and testified to finding evidence of widespread use of excessive force by deputies that often went uninvestigated.
Today, Gusman said that excessive force was rare, and “In every case where we could sustain a use of excessive force, we presented it to the District Attorney."
Gusman likewise denied reports of out-of-control violence and lack of adequate security from expert Manuel David Romero (whose testimony accompanied shocking video from inside the now-shuttered House of Detention), and testimony from Dr. Bruce Gage and Dr. Daphne Glindmeyer that the sheriff's office showed a reckless disregard for inmates' mental health.
Judging by Gusman's testimony, virtually every major point of the consent decree is unnecessary. Oddly, his office is here this week, in part, to argue for adoption of the agreement, which Gusman signed in December.
(More after the jump)
Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman will testify in the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree hearing Thursday at 8:30 a.m., the last witness for this hearing, per an agreement attorneys and Judge Lance Africk reached this afternoon to expedite the proceeding. Also, the plaintiffs' have shortened their list of witnesses and will be finished presenting their case this afternoon. The city's only witness, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, testified earlier today.
Afternoon testimony on day three included OPP inmate Aaron Steel, who has been in the jail since 2011 awaiting trial on a drug charge. Steel testified that he is chronically mentally ill. He said he is schizophrenic and has suffered from depression. He said that when he first entered the jail, he told doctors that he was suicidal and was placed on a suicide watch tier. On his first day, he said, he was alone in his cell, but "The next day, they were piling people up into that cell." Despite taking medication to treat his depression, Steel said OPP doctors did not prescribe him any antidepressants.
After five days, he said he told doctors he was no longer suicidal, only to get out of the cell. He was moved onto the psychiatric tier at Templeman V, which he described as "inhumane and barbaric." Steel described one incident there where he was attacked by another inmate with a 6-inch knife and another bludgeoned him with an object, causing injury, all as deputies were watching from just outside the tier. He said it took more than 10 minutes for deputies to intervene. He was eventually hospitalized.
"I went to University Hospital and received 8 staples in my head."
(More after the jump)
Yesterday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu called for a special New Orleans City Council meeting to discuss the proposed federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison — namely how the millions of dollars to pay for it would cripple the city’s budget.
Today, Landrieu said a consent decree with Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — on top of the consent agreement to reform NOPD — “cannot be paid for in this fiscal year without raising taxes or substantially gutting city services.”
“During this fiscal year, the sheriff, DOJ, federal judges are all riding up to tell us and the taxpayers of the city to write a blank check and hand it over,” Landrieu said. “We will not voluntarily write an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money to the Orleans Parish sheriff’s office.”
Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin laid out four possible budget scenarios if the city accommodates the $22 million (and growing) cost of the prison consent decree: all city employees would be furloughed 30 days this year; the city would lay off 779 employees; all city departments would take a 45 percent cut; or, in what the city expects to be the most realistic scenario, a combination of 305 layoffs, 15 furlough days for all city employees, and 6.3 percent cuts in other departments and services.
Landrieu’s chief concern is the potential cost to public safety. “If we are forced to make these cuts, they will be real … and throw our entire criminal justice system in disarray,” he said. Kopplin outlined dire cuts to city services, from police and fire to NORD camps and Parks and Parkways.
Update (4 p.m.): Laura Maggi reports in The Times-Picayune that Children's Hospital this afternoon issued a statement saying it is in fact not planning on reopening the New Orleans Adolescent Hospital.
From the story:
"We articulated the hospital's position that relocating mental health services from the Calhoun campus to the deteriorated NOAH campus would not be economically feasible. We will continue to provide mental health services on the Calhoun Campus," according to the statement.
Neither Abramson nor representatives of Children's Hospital immediately returned requests for comment.
In the meantime, take a look at Act 867 of 2012, which authorized the transfer of the property to Children's Hospital. The law provided that the Louisiana Division of Administration may enter into a lease with Children's, provided that it happens by Feb. 1, 2013. Here's what happens otherwise:
"The lease provided for in Section 3 and Section 4 shall be executed by February 1, 2013. Failure to execute the lease shall render Section 3 and Section 4 null, void and without effect. After such time or when Children's Hospital refuses to enter into the lease, whichever is sooner, the commissioner of administration is authorized to to offer a lease of the property ... to the highest bidder."
If Children's Hospital didn't sign the lease by February, the state could offer NOAH up to anyone. Children's signed it on Jan. 25. The lease requires the hospital to provide the same services NOAH did before it was closed, but it gives the hospital two years (plus reasonable time extensions) to bring it up to code. If Children's fails to live up to the agreement, the property simply reverts back to state contol. Meanwhile the state and Children's Hospital are able to negotiate the sale of the property, which is, according to Maggi's report, what Children's wants.
Here's what happened earlier today (after the jump):
At a meeting of the New Orleans City Council's Housing and Human Needs Committee today, bed-and-breakfast operators, property owners and representatives of the city's tourism industry demanded more stringent enforcement of short-term property rental laws, saying the city's apparently lax attitude toward the problem takes business from legitimate bed and breakfasts and hotels and costs tax dollars.
"Every year legitimate operators lose $13 million in potential bookings to illegal short-term rentals," said bed and breakfast operator Brian Furness, giving the estimates of the French Quarter Citizens Illegal Short-Term Rental Committee. Based on taxes paid by licensed and permitted facilities, he added, "Those illegal operators would owe $1.4M annually in taxes. Against this backdrop, the city's lack of enforcement is perplexing."
Under city code, property owners without hotel or bed and breakfast permits cannot rent out their homes for less than 60 days in the French Quarter or 30 days elsewhere in the city. The city enforces the law by sending out notices to property owners or agents advertising illegal short-terms. But in January, Gambit found that the city had not sent out any such notice during the entire second half of 2012, despite flagrant online advertising in the run-up to the Super Bowl. Nor had city government ever provided a semi-annual report on enforcement efforts, as required by the law.
(More after the jump)
Responding to a rumor recently circulating among some French Quarter residents that the city of New Orleans is poised to sell the New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) 8th District station (and before the office's recent move to City Hall, the home of the Vieux Carre Commission) at 334 Royal St. sometime in the near future, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's spokesman Ryan Berni writes in an email that city currently has no such plans. However, he adds, that could change in the future.
"The City is open and considering other possible sites that may be better suited and more cost efficient as a police station," Berni writes.
According to Nicole Webre, legislative director for District C City Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, who represents the neighborhood, the city has been pondering offering the building for sale since last year.
“We haven’t heard anything recently," she says.
The historic Bank of Louisiana building, completed in 1827 according to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, is sitting on a valuable piece of property, a point city officials mentioned when the idea came up about a year ago, Webre says. The nearly 186-year-old building also needs some work.
“The building itself needs to be renovated," Webre says.
Even if the city sells the building, Webre adds, Palmer "is committed to making sure the NOPD does have a presence in the French Quarter, because obviously that’s valuable for many reasons.”
Food trucks currently are the topic of dozens of local and national conversations right now — in editorials, snark-choked conspiracy theories, and as reporters discover them in Austin during the biggest music festival in the country.
Today, New Orleans City Council members held another public meeting to discuss legislation that would allow more food trucks in New Orleans and streamline the requirements and protocols for food truck operators. New Orleans Food Truck Coalition president Rachel Billow said the organization has received more than 50 emails from interested food truck operators last year, and that City Hall's hand-written waiting list for permits is more than two pages long. (Current law allows 100 active mobile vendor permits. Proposed legislation increases it to 200.)
Council president Stacy Head read concerns from Louisiana Restaurant Association (LRA) president Paul Rotner (though she added that much of the "factual basis on which his opposition rests is incorrect") — the proximity of trucks from restaurants (set at 100 feet in the draft legislation), availability of mobile vendor washrooms (currently being discussed), insurance (trucks must have liability insurance), and which city department will handle oversight (the Bureau of Revenue's Department of Finance, which handles codes for all businesses).
Head noted a "strange" article on food trucks that asked why laws need to be written if food trucks have existed before them. "I don't think it's a good idea for food truck operators to operate outside the law," she said. "It's our job to make the laws consistent, understandable and reasonable, and you demand adherence to those rules."
As City Hall prepares to open the "one-stop shop," the Vieux Carre Commission (VCC) will close its new one-stop shop office and its French Quarter office on Royal Street as
it integrates into the newly formed "One Stop Shop" for permits and licenses. The VCC will reopen 9 a.m. Monday, March 11.
The VCC will have a "daily presence" at the One Stop Shop. From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a VCC staff member will host office hours at the Royal Street location for "drop-ins and general questions" but not application drop-offs.
Last week, the City announced a website, a beta mobile app, and a physical office opening inside City Hall to function as a "One Stop Shop to improve and streamline the customer experience related to securing permits and licenses." The City Planning Commission, Historic Districts Landmarks Commission, Safety & Permits and VCC share space in room 7W303 on the seventh floor of City Hall.
The plaintiffs in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) consent decree case today dismissed the argument that a consent decree for the jail would force city government to write a "blank check" to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, the city's main objection to a proposed consent decree for the jail. In contrast, the plaintiffs say in a new court filing, the decree will ensure that the city actually knows what it's spending its money on.
"As opposed to a 'blank check,' the Proposed Consent Judgment is giving the City, perhaps for the first time, a clear idea of how and where funds for OPP will be spent, says the reply, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates.
The plaintiffs argue that the city has thus far chosen to keep blindly funding the prison without demanding better accountability — through the annual budget process or through its party status in Hamilton v. Morial, a lawsuit that resulted in the current per diem rate — even after it had been made aware of the alleged abusive conditions there.
"The City has been formally on notice of deficient conditions at OPP since at least the United States’ 2009 Findings Letter. Since that time, the City has shelled out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to a constitutionally deficient facility, where people continued to be seriously injured and die. The City took no steps to protest, intervene, seek relief or remedy the conditions."
(More after the jump)
The city of New Orleans yesterday filed a pleading in federal court opposing the final approval of the Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decree. While the city is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of inmates in OPP, it says, it objects to being tied to a consent decree while funding remains a question. The court has scheduled a hearing to determine the fairness and necessity of the consent decree for April 1. A hearing on paying for it — how much and who is responsible — is not scheduled until late May.
"...it is respectfully submitted that review of the proposed Consent Decree cannot be cleanly segregated from the funding hearing," reads the filing.
In July, the sheriff's office informed the city that estimated additional costs to bring the jail into compliance could run as much as $45 million in city dollars for the 2013 fiscal year, an increase of about $23 million from its current per prisoner per day general fund allocation. The filing says such and increase would force it to "lay off more than 600 employees or begin furloughing employees for periods in excess of thirty days."
(More after the jump)
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