When Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sheriff Marlin Gusman announced an agreement to begin funding the federal consent decree at Orleans Parish Prison (OPP), I thought we were finally seeing some progress at the troubled jail.
The Times-Picayune reported last week that Gusman is investigating the man responsible for helping the T-P and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) expose the countless rapes, stabbings and inhumane conditions inside the jail.
News organizations are loath to reveal confidential sources, but in this case Deputy Bryan Collins has agreed to let the T-P identify him. He no longer has anything to lose, and perhaps the light of day will force Gusman to back down.
According to the newspaper, as of last week Collins had not been allowed to report for duty for a week. The paper also reported that Collins has hired a lawyer who took the deputy's concerns about retaliation to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Based on the T-P's reporting, Collins' concerns are justified. In fact, the DOJ should expand its probe of Gusman's office to include retaliation against Collins.
Gusman's office has confirmed it is pursuing criminal and administrative investigations of Collins for alleged violations of OPP policies. The "violations" include Collins bringing a cellphone into the jail, where he photographed a bloody cell — the scene of a brutal stabbing — and shared it with the newspaper and the law center. The SPLC filed the original lawsuit against Gusman, which the DOJ later joined. That lawsuit led to the consent decree.
Now, after Collins helped expose the hellish conditions that warranted federal intervention at OPP, he's being scapegoated by the man responsible for those conditions — because he used his cellphone to blow the whistle. Never mind that scores of prisoners bring cellphones — and a lot worse — into Gusman's jail.
The 48-year-old Collins, who has worked at the jail for four years, should be hailed as a hero, not harassed and possibly punished for daring to expose the truth. I can't think of a more glaring example of administrative and legal injustice.
Lest we forget, Gusman is the same sheriff who couldn't explain his own budget from the witness stand in federal court. He's the same sheriff who kept in an office safe an incendiary videotape of inmates partying in a cell with booze and drugs — and a loaded gun — then later claimed he didn't know anything about the tape, or the safe ... until the feds showed up looking for it.
And as for the photo of the bloody jail cell that Collins leaked to the T-P and the SPLC, this is the same sheriff who called the victim's stab wounds "superficial."
If you haven't seen the photo, go to nola.com and find it. The image is horrific enough. Gusman's callous dismissal of the stabbing as "superficial" is utterly heartless, and maddening. He has exposed himself as not only incompetent to hold that office, but also unworthy of any public office.
I had several conversations with Gusman months ago about the jail. Each time, he reminded me that OPP is filled with "bad people," as if they deserved to be treated like human detritus — before being returned to our streets angrier and more violent than ever. Gusman obviously forgets that on any given day hundreds of men in his jail haven't even stood trial yet, that some in fact are innocent, and that many are not violent (at least, they weren't when they entered Gusman's circle of hell).
It's time for people to recognize the link between an inhumane jail and the city's high crime rate. Yes, there are "bad people" in OPP. But there are just as many young men there who need direction. Instead, they get rapes, stabbings and conditions that you'd expect in the worst jails on the planet — and a sheriff who dismisses it all as "superficial" or somehow justified ... and always, always, not his fault.
Bryan Collins is a hero. Marlin Gusman is a charlatan. Which one really deserves to lose his job?