1. Feds open civil rights investigation into Sterling death
The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI have launched a civil rights investigation into the July 5 shooting death of 37-year-old black man Alton Sterling by two white Baton Rouge police officers outside a convenience store.
"I have full confidence that the U.S. Department of Justice will conduct a thorough, transparent investigation from beginning to end," said Gov. John Bel Edwards in a July 6 statement. "Based on the information I have obtained from law enforcement and the footage I've seen from one publicly available video ... I have very serious concerns."
Two graphic bystander videos emerged following the shooting, though the Baton Rouge Police Department has not made available possible footage from officers' body-worn cameras. Marjorie Esman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, asked the department where is the footage.
2. NOLA officials demand transparency
While U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the shooting death of Alton Sterling, he also urged Baton Rouge to join him in "demonstrating our anger with dignity and demanding proper focus on our cause with perseverance."
"His family and the citizens of Baton Rouge — especially the citizens of North Baton Rouge — deserve answers and that is what we will seek in a fair, thorough and transparent way," Richmond said. On Twitter, state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, wrote, "Shouldn't officer(s) who don't follow police protocol during questioning & arrest, & then kill a human being be arrested?!? And not just [suspended]!"
"From our own experiences and those of other cities across the country," Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, "it is clear that completely open and transparent investigations are the only path forward."
3. Troy Hebert: "All lives matter"
While statewide legislators and national leaders announced their support for the family of Alton Sterling, Troy Hebert declared "all lives matter." Hebert — the former state senator and Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control commissioner currently running for U.S. Senate — criticized how "some deaths are treated differently than others." (He did not mention that those "some deaths" were by police.)
"Why does the federal government only seem to investigate/care when a white person shoots a black person?" Hebert wrote in a statement. "Why not when a black kills a white? A white kills a white? A black kills a black? One is not any more dead than the others. ... One cannot demand equality when you try to achieve it by being treated separately!"
4. Big Freedia ordered to halfway house
A federal judge has ordered New Orleans bounce artist and reality TV star Big Freedia to stay at a halfway house and suspend all upcoming shows and tours unless approved by the court. Freedia — who pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in March to using Section 8 housing vouchers despite earning an income that disqualified the artist from receiving them — was ordered by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to submit to substance abuse testing in April. According to the U.S. Attorney's office, Freedia tested positive for marijuana and methamphetamine. Freedia also will "undergo further substance abuse evaluation" while at the halfway house.
A sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 11, when Freedia faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
5. Mayfield out at NOJO
Trumpeter Irvin Mayfield resigned as artistic director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) July 5 after the latest in a series of WWL-TV stories detailing questionable transfers of funds from the New Orleans Public Library Foundation, on whose board he served until May 2015. WWL-TV investigative reporter David Hammer found Mayfield had steered more than $1 million from the foundation to the orchestra, which pays him a six-figure salary. An additional Hammer report last month showed Mayfield ran up an $18,000 hotel bill in New York, which he billed to the library foundation.
The group Make NOJO Pay has erected a billboard near NOJO's headquarters in the new Peoples Health New Orleans Jazz Market, demanding the orchestra reimburse the library foundation. NOJO has agreed to pay back part of the money (less than half) in cash over the next five years, and the rest "in-kind" via a series of concerts.
6. Edwards to launch review of state's film tax credits
In the wake of an Associated Press article claiming TV and film production in Louisiana is down by about 90 percent since the state capped its lucrative film tax credit program, Gov. John Bel Edwards last week announced that Louisiana Economic Development will initiate a "comprehensive review" of the program and its economic impact. "Louisiana will drive this process to create a smarter, sustainable model for the future," Edwards said in a statement. No date was given for completion of the study.
Louisiana continues to spend up to $180 million per year on tax credits for movie and TV producers. In a 2014 Gambit cover story on the sustainability of film tax credits, we reported that $222.8 million was given away by the state in 2012.
7. Operation: TIGER arrests suspects in June crimes
New Orleans Police Department's (NOPD) "Operation: TIGER" led to the arrest or identification of 13 suspects in 30 cases involving armed robbery, carjackings and other crimes, according to NOPD Chief Michael Harrison. Harrison formed the "TIGER" (Tactical Intelligence Gathering and Enforcement Response) task force last month following a string of similar crimes in May and June. The arrests include two suspects responsible for three crimes and two juveniles "connected to multiple violent crimes in the area."
"We made a commitment to track down the suspects responsible for these violent crimes and hold them accountable for their actions, and that's exactly what we've done," Harrison said in a statement. "These perpetrators made a choice to terrorize our community and we will absolutely not tolerate it."
8. Outsourced: The O cuts jobs, joins T-P
Oregon newspaper and website The Oregonian will outsource its copy and design desk to New Orleans at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. Both are wings of Advance Publications. That move means the company will close the Oregonian Media Group's Pub Hub in October, according to a memo obtained by Willamette Week. "Our Pub Hub employees will be encouraged to apply for open positions located in Portland as well as positions in New Orleans," reads the memo from Oregonian President Steve Moss. "Those who are leaving will be eligible for severance benefits and outplacement assistance." Advance's Southeast wing includes papers and websites in Alabama and Mississippi in addition to The T-P.
9. RTA seeking
The new Rampart Street streetcar line is set to open this fall, with service between Canal Street and Elysian Fields Avenue. But the group Ride New Orleans has launched a petition urging the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) to keep the traditional 88-St. Claude/Jackson Barracks bus running to Canal Street as well, rather than forcing riders to transfer to a streetcar.
That and other service proposals will be discussed at a public meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 19 at RTA headquarters (2817 Canal St.). This week, nine "workshops" will be held to educate riders about potential changes. For a calendar of those workshops, visit www.norta.com.
10. Hello, Dolly
Concert organizers prematurely announced Dolly Parton's Nov. 30 show at the Smoothie King Center back in May — but quickly scrubbed ticket links and announcements. New Orleans promoters confirmed her "Pure & Simple" tour stop last week, and tickets go on sale 10 a.m. Friday, July 15. Tickets are $42-$82.