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Pro Bono Lawyer Alleges False Arrest
An AmeriCorps attorney who provides free legal help for returning residents says he was falsely arrested by New Orleans cops last week. Miles Swanson, 27, a Washington D.C. lawyer who works with Katrina victims, says he was falsely arrested Oct. 16 on a misdemeanor charge of crossing a police line. Swanson says he was arrested at about 10:30 p.m. after he stopped riding his bicycle to watch cops arrest two homeless men at a closed Lee Circle service station. "I see these police officers rush these two guys and throw them on the ground," Swanson says. The lawyer estimates he was standing about 70 feet away when one of the two cops turned toward him and allegedly said: "What the f--k do you want?" Swanson says when he replied that he was watching -- but not taking photographs -- the same cop replied: "What the f--k did you say to me?" Swanson says he was then arrested and taken to jail with the two homeless men. He has entered a plea of not guilty before Municipal Court Judge Bruce McConduit. His trial is set for Dec. 21. NOPD spokesperson Bambi Hall says her staff could find no record of the alleged incident by press time. -- Johnson

 

NOPD Monitor Urged
Three groups are calling on Police Chief Warren Riley to stop what they say is "police harassment" of local residents. And at least one of the groups says it's time for an independent monitor of NOPD. Common Ground Relief, Safe Streets/Strong Communities and the New Orleans chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union appealed to Riley last week after the alleged false arrest Oct. 16 of a volunteer lawyer who works for Common Ground's free legal clinic in the Upper Ninth Ward. "Those who are serious about transforming the image and substance of the NOPD must welcome citizen observation of officers' conduct and call for the establishment of an Office of the Independent Monitor," says Soleil Rodrigue, coordinator of Common Ground's legal advocacy program. Although Riley has long voiced support for an independent monitor, usually in response to other alleged incidents of police abuse, the chief has never pushed hard for the proposal. Mayor Ray Nagin has generally shrugged off the idea. Since Nagin's re-election in May, hizzoner has said the city cannot afford the $225,000 in startup funding for an independent monitor. -- Johnson

 

Another Deadline, Another Delay
Another deadline set by the city for reopening Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) has come and gone. Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman says the city owns the flood-damaged facility, which, once-repaired, will enable him to return some of the 2,268 inmates now housed at other jails around the state. Gusman says the reopening of OPP is "critical" to clearing the backlog of thousands of criminal cases pending at Criminal Court. OPP is the closest prison facility to the courthouse and therefore involves the fewest security concerns for deputies transferring prisoners and arrested persons to court. "Until [OPP] is open, we're going to continue having problems [transferring prisoners] at the courthouse," says Gusman. There were 2,000 prisoners housed in local jails last week. Of 2,268 incarcerated elsewhere, most are at the state maximum-security prison at Angola. Gusman's deputies must pick up any of his prisoners at Angola who need to appear in court in New Orleans and then return them to Angola the same day -- a nearly three-hour trip each way, and another expense for taxpayers. -- Johnson

 

Pitching In
Most of the media attention at the recent cleanup of Central City streets focused on the 100 green-jerseyed fans of the Philadelphia Eagles who pitched in to help. But District B City Councilwoman Stacy Head was in the thick of the action, unloading tools from trucks and shoveling muck out of inner-city streets. "The real vile stuff is in the catch basins," Head said, dumping a shovel filled with leaves and trash into a garbage bag. Most of the debris collected at one major intersection seemed to result from littering rather than storm damage. Some observers wondered privately how long the area would remain clean once the estimated 200 volunteers had left. Suddenly, 24 chaperoned neighborhood boys, ages 7 to 14, arrived on the scene from the nearby Dryades Street YMCA and James Singleton Charter School. "We're coming to help clean up our city and our community," said spokesperson Nikkita Landrum. The youths attacked piles of trash around a boarded up church, raking, sweeping and dumping debris. -- Johnson

 

Old Sites, New Oil
Persistent demand, high prices and technological advances have triggered an increased number of permits being issued to oil and gas companies this year, according to data compiled by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources. Through September of this year, the state issued 1,624 permits, compared to only 1,381 a decade ago. It's a far cry from the 7,631 permits issued in 1984, during one of Louisiana's fabled boom periods, but officials are confident the three remaining months of 2006 will continue to see increased activity. Most of the activity is concentrated in one region. "It looks like this is going to be another record year and it's all thanks to north Louisiana," says Jim Welsh, the state's commissioner of conservation, the agency inside DNR that oversees oil and gas permitting, among other duties. "The price of natural gas is a major reason why we're seeing this, but it's not the only reason," Welsh says, adding that the economy and advances in drilling technology also play a part. The new technologies allow companies to drill deeper than ever before, and they're taking those techniques back into north Louisiana to tap previously non-performing wells. -- Alford

Push for OCS Money
Louisiana officials are still pushing Congress to send President George Bush legislation this year that would boost the state's share of federal offshore oil and gas royalties to help stem the tide of coastal erosion and protect southern parishes from the threat of seasonal hurricanes. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, met with editorial boards last week at the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and ABC News. "I am hopeful that today's meetings will shine the national spotlight on Louisiana's critical needs and will help push Congress," she says. Before breaking for the fall congressional elections, a select conference committee made up of members from both chambers sought a compromise on the issue, but talks broke off until Congress goes back into session next month. The Senate is backing Landrieu's Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which would give Louisiana roughly $200 million annually for the first 10 years, then $650 million thereafter. The House has adopted a bill by Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Kenner Republican, that allots $9 billion to Louisiana for the first decade, then $2 billion every year afterwards. The select conference committee must find a middle ground. President Bush supports the Senate version. -- Alford

Bridge Loans Expanded
While the state has offered gap financing to hurricane-affected businesses over the past year, seven private banks have recently been brought on board to broaden the program. The Bridge Loan program combines state and federal money and now has more available than what has already been distributed since Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Gov. Kathleen Blanco says she has committed $332.5 million in Community Development Block Grant funds to economic recovery, but only $55 million is ready to be rolled out. As other dollars are freed up in coming months, Blanco says more programs will be announced. For now, a new series of bridge loans are up for grabs with individual caps of $100,000. To date, the state has issued nearly $40 million in short-term, low-interest loans to small businesses. -- Alford

'Homicide Roses'
Three groups formed since Hurricane Katrina -- representing California, Old Metairie and Central City -- collaborated last week to plant the Memorial Rose Garden at Josephine and Danneel streets, where five teenagers were shot and killed on June 17. Since Katrina, Lee Stevens, a master gardener in Riverside, Calif., has donated hundreds of rose bushes to homeowners on the storm-damaged Gulf Coast through her Restoring Roses to Southern Gardens group. Sharon Henry, a social worker, gardener and founder of Grime 'N' Roses in Old Metairie, said many of the 408 Old Garden roses her group has received from Stevens have been distributed to flood-damaged neighborhoods in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes. Henry's group also aims to plant a "memorial rose" wherever there is a homicide in the city. As a first step toward that goal, Henry partnered with Barbara Lacen-Keller, a City Council employee and founder of the Central City Comeback Committee, to plant the Memorial Rose Garden in Central City. "These are our first homicide roses," Henry says. More plantings are expected. The Orleans Parish Cororner's office reported 131 homicides as of Oct. 18. One rose bush was set aside for the coroner's office in Central City. -- Johnson

Spy Tales Not True
This is the last weekend to catch OktoberFest at the Deutsches-Haus, the Mid-City club where legends of Nazi spies continue to exasperate World War II historians. Deutsches-Haus (200 S. Galvez St.) became an umbrella organization for German immigrant clubs and singing societies in 1928. However, World War II brought rumors of the club becoming a roost for Nazi spies who sent coded radio messages to enemy U-boats that torpedoed Allied ships in the Gulf of Mexico. "There's no truth to that story!" says Martin K. Morgan, a historian at the National World War II Museum. Nor is it true, Morgan adds, that FBI agents found an "escape tunnel" leading from Deutsches-Haus to the Gov. Nicholls Street Wharf and the Mississippi River. All German consular representatives in New Orleans -- the alleged "spies" -- were expelled in mid-1941, months before the U.S. went to war with Germany, Morgan says. Club president Keith Oldendorf says he hopes the spy lore will lure more visitors to OktoberFest at Deutsches-Haus. The club has been restored since Katrina flooded the facility, and the festival will help offset more than $250,000 in storm-related repairs. -- Johnson

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