New Orleans District Attorney

Monday, June 23, 2014

NOPD deputy chief to become DA's chief investigator

Posted By on Mon, Jun 23, 2014 at 3:45 PM

NOPD deputy chief Kirk Bouyelas, left, will serve as the DA's chief investigator.
  • ALEX WOODWARD
  • NOPD deputy chief Kirk Bouyelas, left, will serve as the DA's chief investigator.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has named outgoing New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) deputy superintendent Kirk Bouyelas as the DA's chief investigator. Cannizzaro made the announcement at the DA's office this afternoon. Reading from a prepared statement, Cannizzaro said he considered several hires but "one name clearly rose to the top."

Tenisha Stevens, an investigator with the DA's office, was promoted to deputy chief investigator.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

State of the Criminal Justice System: Cannizzaro pushes Mayor for budget increase

Posted By on Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 11:31 AM

District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro delivered his annual State of the Criminal Justice System speech Tuesday night. I'll post a link to the full speech below the jump, but I'd like to point out one section near the end.

Mr. Mayor — council members, I must request that you significantly increase the local funding of the District Attorney's office. Long before any of you arrived at City Hall, the DA's office became the red headed stepchild of criminal justice funding. Last year — during the budget process, we presented you with an analysis that revealed that the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office was one of the worst locally funded DA's offices in the state of Louisiana.

For more about that analysis, read our article from November, "Cannizzaro: Orleans Parish DA may be most underfunded in state."

One recent topic of interest that Cannizzaro did not address on Tuesday was the Brady rule — and how alleged violations of it under former DA Harry Connick's watch still plague the office today. The problem is explained more fully in this Gambit interview with Cannizzaro from December:

(More after the jump)

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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

House committee approves second amendment bill

Posted By on Wed, May 2, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Louisiana has dozens of gun laws on the books. State Sen. Neil Riser filed Senate Bill 303, a constitutional amendment that aims to expand and protect the second amendment right to bear firearms. His bill would "require that any denial, infringement, or restriction on one's right to acquire, keep, possess, transport, carry, transfer, and use arms for defense of life and property be subject to a strict scrutiny standard by courts in determining any violation of the right."

This afternoon, Louisiana’s House committee on criminal justice voted 9-5 in favor of the bill. The bill, according to Riser, “will give Louisiana the strongest second amendment right in the nation.” The bill's opponents fear Riser’s bill would open a door for litigation to rule those 80-plus laws unconstitutional, creating a gun-toting free for all. It now enter the House for a vote and will likely end up on November ballots where its fate will ultimately be decided by voters.

State Reps. Roy Burrell, Dalton Honore, Barbara Norton, Terry Landry and Helena Moreno repeatedly asked why Louisiana needs the additional “protection.” “I’m just trying to figure out how this gun bill is going to make Louisiana better and make citizens safer,” Landry asked, adding he doesn’t want to send the state back to “the wild wild west of this country.”

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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

More from our interview with DA Leon Cannizzaro

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2011 at 4:01 PM

This week's cover story — a Q&A with District Attorney Leon Cannizzarofocused mostly on his office and "Brady laws," which require prosecutors to turn over any exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. But we had a couple of interesting digressions along the way, including one about a recent high-profile prosecution, witness safety and contraband controls at Orleans Parish Prison. It's presented here in slightly redacted form.

—-

GAMBIT: You've said your office can't protect every family member of everybody that testifies.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY LEON CANNIZZARO: Correct.

G: But when the public sees how easily their family members can be done in in something like the Curtis Matthews case, what can you tell the public to make them want to testify?

CANNIZZARO: Well, I think that the public is the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system serves the public, but the public makes up the criminal justice system. If we don't have the participation of witnesses, if we don't have their involvement, then there is no criminal justice system. Again, I basically urge them to give this system a chance, to give this process a chance. You know, John Matthews was shot, I think it was seven or eight times in his own home prior to his testifying against Telly Hankton. And as a result of that shooting, he came forth and testified not once, but twice. He had a greater resolve, in my opinion, to show Telly Hankton and people of his ilk that you are not going to influence me, you are not going to intimidate me and run me away from doing what is the right thing. To me, he was a hero in that case. …

G: I don't think anyone is arguing the heroism of someone like a John Matthews. But in 2010 you urged Hankton be moved out of OPP [Orleans Parish Prison].

CANNIZZARO: Yes.

G: And obviously your thinking was that it was just too easy for him to control what was going on in the streets in Orleans from OPP?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cannizzaro: Orleans Parish DA may be most underfunded in state

Posted By on Tue, Nov 15, 2011 at 4:07 PM

Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro gave one of this season's more riveting City Council presentations today (which, I'll admit, I did not attend in person. I watched it from my comfortable cubicle.), saying that in light of new health insurance costs and the loss of $800,000 in grant funding, Mayor Mitch Landrieu's recommendation to keep the office's allocation static at $6.16 million is tantamount to a $1.2 cut.

Cannizzaro highlighted the progress the office has made in the past few years. From 2008 to 2010, he said, showing statistics gathered by the Metropolitan Crime Commission, New Orleans has seen a 31 percent increase in felony cases accepted for prosecution, a 65 percent increase in felony convictions and a 211 percent increase in violent felony convictions. The mayor's budget — which according to the mayor was designed to protect public safety spending — could force the DA to replace seasoned attorneys with novices right out of law school, jeopardizing that progress.

He went on to say that, measured by several metrics, the Orleans Parish DA is already "one of — if not the most — underfunded district attorney's offices in the state of Louisiana."

(More after the jump)

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Landrieu's 100th day as mayor

Posted By on Wed, Aug 11, 2010 at 7:37 PM

On Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 100th day in office, he held a town hall for City Council District A at Grace Episcopal Church in Mid-City. Landrieu, who is in the midst of conducting these “listening sessions” in every district, was joined on the dais by District A councilperson Susan Guidry and deputy mayors Judy Reese Morse and Andy Kopplin. In the audience were NOPD Chief Ronal Serpas, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, Council President Arnie Fielkow and dozens of city managers from almost every municipal department, all of whom took notes as members of the crowd stood and spoke about the improvements needed in their neighborhoods.

guidry mitch

District A City Councilmember Susan Guidry and Mayor Mitch Landrieu take notes as members of the crowd speak at last night's town hall in Mid-City.

“I think it’s fair to say we’ve put the pedal to the medal,” Landrieu said, outlining the six “priorities” of his administration, which he said were developed in the many task force meetings held by the new administration. The six, in order of importance, were: public safety; children and families; economic development; sustainable communities; open and effective government; and innovation. He warned that the city’s $67 million deficit would require some “tough decisions and bad choices,” and added that the findings from these community meetings would steer the direction of the final municipal budget.

Audience members had filled out cards with questions and comments as they entered, and moderator Vincent Sylvain handed them to Landrieu one by one. Each person had two minutes to pose a question, during which Landrieu — in loosened tie and rolled-up shirtsleeves — took copious notes on the most tangential of complaints on pages of yellow legal paper.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Mayor, Police Chief Reorganize NOPD Structure, Aim To Save $15 Million

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 10:19 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu was joined by Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas at city hall this afternoon to announce a major restructuring of the city's police department aimed at saving $15 million.

Police Reshuffle

Mayor Landrieu (center) with Police Superintendent Serpas (left) and new Deputy Superintendent Arlinda Pierce Westbrook of the Public Integrity Bureau (right).

"We're going to take the fight to the streets where it belongs," said Mayor Landrieu. "And not in police headquarters where it seems to be at this moment."

Chief Serpas said the plan is designed to cut down on "bloated senior executive leadership" in the department. He said the reshuffle would create "clear lines of accountability, clear lines of responsibility, clear lines of authority," and that "we're going to be giving people jobs they deserve."

"When I got here I was surprised to find out that deputy chiefs were only supervising in some cases four or five people," he said. "For example we're not going to have one captain in charge of one person in the radio shop any more. I mean, that's gonna end on Sunday."

Serpas will cut the number of deputy superintendents fom six to four, and Marlon Defillo and Kurt Boyelas will maintain their ranks in charge of the department's Field Operations Bureau and Investigations and Support Bureau respectively. Two civilian deputy superintendents will also be brought on board: Arlinda Pierce Westbrook will move from the city attorney's office to oversee the Public Integrity Bureau, and Stephanie Landry will run the department's Management Services Bureau.

The cuts will eliminate the positions of 11 majors — seven will become police commanders in their respective districts, and four will revert to police captain. 67 percent of captains in the department will be given new assignments this afternoon.

Serpas said each of the four deputy chiefs have promised not to moonlight in any other roles in exchange for their jobs, and said he is working hard to institute an honesty policy in the bureau, mentioned in this week's Gambit cover interview — whereby dishonest officers can be fired.

"We're going to fight crime to make New Orleans safe, and we're going to be responsible budget managers," said Serpas. "The two things go hand in hand."

City council members praised the move, and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said he appreciated Serpas' focus on reducing violent crime. The two have been spending so much time together collaborating, he added, "that our wives are going to start getting suspicious."

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

DA and Police Processing Drug Cases Faster

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 3:09 PM

The New Orleans criminal justice system has cut down from 64 days to 10.5 days the time it takes to process simple drug possession cases in the Orleans criminal court through an initiative by the Criminal Justice Leadership Alliance (CJLA).

"This is a result of much better cooperation particularly between the police department and the district attorney’s office to get these things moving through the system,” says New Orleans Councilman James Carter, who started CJLA in the fall of 2007 along with Luceia LeDoux, a public safety and program director for Baptist Community Ministries.

By expediting the process, Carter says it allows the New Orleans Police Department and the DA to concentrate its resources on building strong cases against repeat felony suspects, and, at the same time, release those indigent defendants that spend time in Orleans Parish Prison waiting for a determination on misdemeanor charges.

Often referred to as “victimless” crimes, simple drug possession can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount and whether or not there was an intent to distribute. Possession charges account for roughly one-third of the state arrests in Orleans Parish.

The “Expedited Screening and Disposition” initiative was started in March of 2009, and combines efforts by CJLA members, which include representatives from the NOPD, the district attorney’s office and other parts of the criminal justice system. By the terms of the initiative, NOPD agreed to email police reports and field test reports to the DA’s office within 48 hours of an arrest (except on weekends). In turn, the DA’s office assented to make a screening decision within 24 hours of receiving the reports, the defendant’s criminal record and after interviewing the arresting officers.

Previously, the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans District Attorney’s Office would wait until near the end of the time provided — 45 days for a misdemeanor and 60 days for a felony — to complete the police paperwork and to decide whether or not to prosecute a case.

For January, the initiative reports a decrease from 61 days to seven days the time required to arrest a suspect and to decide whether or not they will be charged with a crime. What has changed little is the time it takes from the filing of the DA’s screening decision to a defendant’s arraignment in court, which stands at 4.5 days.

Carter has made criminal justice reform one of his main concerns during his time with the council.

"I'm leaving the Council soon, and, hopefully, this work can continue on into the next administration,” says Carter, whose term ends this May.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit concerned with improving justice systems, advises CJLA. Jon Wool, the institute’s New Orleans director, will present the imitative’s report today at the general meeting of the New Orleans City Council.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Cannizzaro Sticking with Batt

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2010 at 4:12 PM

New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro says he will continue his involvement in the District A City Council race, which is headed for a runoff on March 6. Cannizzaro endorsed former councilman Jay Batt, a Republican, in the Feb. 6 primary for the council’s District A seat, which includes parts of Lakeview, Uptown, Mid-City and Carrollton. Batt faces Susan Guidry, a Democrat, in the runoff. In the primary, Guidry garnered 44 percent of the vote to Batt’s 39 percent.

Cannizzaro says he decided to publicly endorse Batt when the Guidry campaign began putting out materials saying Batt was lenient towards blight. Batt countered the accusation, holding out his volunteer work with the nonprofit organization Beacon of Hope and his legislative record with the council as examples of his anti-blight efforts.
Cannizzaro, who supported the failed mayoral campaign of businessman John Georges as well as Batt’s, says he will offer endorsements in future elections.
“Not all of them, but I will when I see it as important,” Cannizzaro says.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Public Defenders Carrying a Heavy Load

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2009 at 10:50 PM

Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton says that some of his staff lawyers, particularly those that defend clients charged with higher felony crimes including rape and murder, are so overloaded with clients that he will have to stop assigning cases to them.

“Some of these lawyers will simply become inactive, which means we’ll have fewer lawyers to take cases,” Bunton says.

That does not mean the public defender’s office will stop accepting new murder and rape cases. In the short term, Bunton will promote some of his lower level staff to cover the defenses of more serious charges. He will also hire lawyers from the office’s conflict panel, which is used when there is a conflict in a case such as multiple defendants on one charge or case overload, as well as asking local lawyers to take cases pro bono.

Bunton says one of his attorneys has closed 400 felony cases this year, which the chief defender says is nearly three times the national standard of 150 cases. Due to budget constraints — the New Orleans City Council cut a $500,000 in funding that it gave to the public defenders for the first time last year — Bunton can’t hire any new attorneys even though his office is trying more cases. The public defenders’ office operates on a budget of $5.2 million with $2.7 million coming from the state, and the rest is generated through court fees and fines.

According to a Metropolitan Crime Commission report for the first six months of 2009, there were about 2,000 more arrests in Orleans Parish than in 2008, and the district attorney’s office accepted 1,006 more cases. Bunton says the criminal justice system is performing more effectively and attributes the rising figures to “competent leadership” and incremental increases in the 2009 budgets for the DA and the public defenders.

“You’ve got dividends and to all of a sudden, given those results, start messing with that?” Bunton asks. “Us and trash pickup are really the only successful policy areas for the city.”

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter says he has told Bunton that he needs to reduce the excessive caseloads for his staff and the conflict panel.

“If he doesn’t comply with it, I will have no choice but to file a complaint with the (Louisiana) bar association,” Hunter says.

Hunter points out that it is the state’s responsibility to pay for public defense, and not the city. He says the state has failed for a number of years to provide adequate funding for indigent defense, and that this is having a dangerous effect on the city’s criminal justice system.

“Something has to be done,” Hunter says. “The public defenders’ office is as much a part of the criminal justice system as the courts, the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the coroner’s office. If one doesn’t work, it affects the other agencies.”

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