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.
Ricky Russell, a 26-year-old mentally ill inmate found dead in his cell at Orleans Parish Prison last week, had requested medical help the night before and was left in his cell without supervision overnight, claims another inmate in a court filing today.
Jaime Hernandez, who was housed on the same tier as Russell in OPP's Conchetta facility, gave a declaration on Feb. 9 that was submitted as an exhibit in the ongoing OPP consent decree litigation in U.S. District Court today. According to Hernandez, Russell asked a nurse for help on Feb. 6, the day before deputies reported finding him dead.
"He had a skin infection on his leg and he also wanted to see a psychiatrist. He asked to see the psychiatrist a lot," the statement says. "The two nurses told him to file a sick call, then they left and he went back in his cell. I remember him saying, 'I'm tired. I'm tired of this.' He also said that he wanted to go upstate [presumably state treatment at the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System]. I guess he thought he would get more help outside of OPP."
Hernandez says that Russell, a second-degree murder suspect who reportedly suffered from long-term mental illness, was acting strangely that night, laughing loudly until about 2 a.m.
"I thought he had gone to sleep," the statement says.
Hernandez believes Russell may have taken too much of the psychotropic medications staff administered. Hernandez claims that Russell was given "45 pills of both Depakote and Wellbutrin every Wednesday."
Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. [Update: The Sheriff's Office released a statement Thursday evening.] But an OPSO statement released after Russell's death notes that Russell, while mentally ill, had denied being suicidal, "therefore he was not on suicide watch, which calls for a deputy to monitor him on direct observation." Hernandez corroborates this, saying he advised Russell to tell the medical staff he was suicidal "to get help."
(More after the jump)
The Police Association of New Orleans (PANO) and its president, New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Capt. Michael Glasser, claimed in a legal filing last month that the United States Department of Justice had misrepresented itself in the investigation and negotiations leading to the NOPD consent decree.
The organization's problem was, you've guessed by now, the involvement of former blog-something prose-commenter Sal Perricone. (Also see John Simerman's story on internet startup Perricone's recent appearances in federal court filings.) PANO hopes to reverse a judge's ruling denying its motion to intervene as a named party to the consent decree.
From our earlier story:
PANO charges that former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone, who was part of the U.S. Department of Justice's consent decree negotiations team, posted comments on nola.com "clearly and publically display[ing] that he had no faith or respect for the defendants, the NOPD or their present leadership."
The filing points to comments Perricone posted under the user names "Henry L. Mencken1951" and "legacyusa."
Today, DOJ responds, calling PANO's claims immaterial. Judge Susie Morgan's decision against PANO had did not turn on whether PANO's interests were well represented by its negotiators, DOJ says.
(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)
U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan denied a request by lawyers for the city of New Orleans that she delay a Jan. 31 deadline, by which the city must file any requests that the court reverse course on its recent approval of the New Orleans Police Department's consent decree, according to a summary of a status conference held yesterday.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who once supported a timely approval of the agreement, has changed his mind due to the uncertain costs associated with the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree, which Judge Lance Africk preliminarily approved this week. A trial on funding for the jail agreement is set for late May. Landrieu says the combined costs of the OPP and NOPD consent decrees could bankrupt the city.
According to the summary, Morgan also ordered the city and the U.S. Department of Justice to form a committee to evaluate applicants for a consent decree monitor, a contract that could be worth as much as $10 million over the course of the consent decree.
(More after the jump)
U.S. District Court Judge Helen Berrigan ordered an arraignment and initial court appearance for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin pushed back several weeks. The hearing, originally scheduled for Jan. 31, is now scheduled for Feb. 20, at 2 p.m., before federal Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan.
Last week, a federal grand jury returned a 21-count indictment against Nagin, following a lengthy investigation into allegations that the former mayor accepted bribes in return for preferable treatment from City Hall during his 2002-2010 tenure. The indictment alleges that Nagin accepted more than $200,000, as well as vacations, from local businessmen, paying them back with lucrative city contracts. He has also been charged with money laundering and filing false tax returns, both related to the alleged bribes.
Gambit political contributor Stephanie Grace was on last night's Informed Sources on WYES-TV, discussing the indictment of former mayor Ray Nagin with host Larry Lorenz, producer Errol Laborde and journalist Dawn Ostrom. The show isn't embeddable, but you can watch it on WYES' website.
Now, finally, that clueless, narcissistic poseur will be called to account for some of his many sins against New Orleans.
Oh, happy day.
According to the 21-count indictment, Nagin took more than $200,000 in bribes from at least four city contractors to whom he steered recovery contracts after Hurricane Katrina. All four of them — Rodney Williams, Frank Fradella, Mark St. Pierre and Aaron Bennett — have already been convicted on various federal charges, some of them linked directly to Nagin’s indictment. He also allegedly got free private jet travel and limos (collectively worth more than $20,000) from Businessman A in exchange for favorable tax treatment by City Hall.
Download the complete 25-page indictment United States of America v. C. Ray Nagin a/k/a "Mayor Nagin":
"I personally witnessed him at arm’s length, literally two or three weeks away up in Baton Rouge, two weeks after the storm. He just collapsed onto the ground and leaned up against the wall and said, ‘I did not sign up for this shit.’ And he said it again. ‘I did not sign up for this stuff.’ And I’m thinking, wait a minute, you’re the mayor. You absolutely signed up for whatever comes. But that was his attitude. It was all about him."
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