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Monday Crime Update
New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley and District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. are expected to appear before the City Council this week after another horrific week of brutal crimes and unexpected jail releases of violent suspects. The Council wants to hear about improved coordination between NOPD and the DA's office, including investigations, report writing and the collection of evidence. Another hot topic will be "701" releases -- a major source of finger pointing between cops and prosecutors (and sometimes jailers). The term "701" refers to a section of Louisiana criminal law which requires a judge to release suspects from jail after 60 days if charges have not been filed (usually because of no police report, witnesses or other factors.) On Feb. 2, the DA's office admitted that three of four men arrested for the Katrina-related shooting and wounding of police officer Kevin Thomas on Aug. 30, 2005, were "701-released" last July. And last week, a violent career criminal who robbed a Mid-City woman on the day of her father's funeral, "rolled out" of jail amid paperwork snafus in the system. Other topics on the council agenda include police professionalism, recruiting, and facilities; initiatives for helping youths; and development of Web-based information on crime for the public. Silenceisviolence.org, a force in the Jan. 11 anti-crime march on City Hall, is urging the public to attend the council meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Monday (Feb. 12) -- Johnson

 

NOPD 'Spin-off' Cases
Two NOPD discipline cases that spun off the department's firing of Capt. Harry Mendoza, whose civil service hearing resumes this week, have been resolved in favor of the officers. In one case, Public Integrity Bureau Capt. Mark Willow appealed a written reprimand by Deputy Chief Marlin Defillo, commander of the internal affairs division. Willow was cited May 1 for "inappropriate comments" he allegedly made to Mendoza during an official investigation of Mendoza. "You told (Mendoza) that you were being instructed to participate in the taking of statements and apologized to (Mendoza) for your involvement," the reprimand reads. "These comments, made during an official disciplinary investigation and in the presence of your subordinates, brought discredit to you and to this department." The Civil Service Commission declined Willow's appeal, saying his reprimand was not "disciplinary in nature." However, the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal overruled the commission and agreed with Willow, who noted his reprimand is memorialized on an NOPD "Citation of Disciplinary Action" form. The Civil Service Commission then noted that Willow's reprimand is "only temporary in nature" and "cannot be used in future discipline." The commander of the city's homeland security division during Katrina, Willow has impressed NOPD insiders with imaginative proposals for dealing with arrestees and prisoners in future storms. Meanwhile, Sgt. Joe Valiente, the NOPD liaison to Carnival, has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the Mendoza case. A PIB surveillance team photographed the sergeant playing tennis with Mendoza during a police shift. Time sheets showed Valiente was off-duty at the time, Defillo said. Mendoza was dismissed for allegedly failing to devote sufficient time to his police duties, and his appeal of that action is pending. -- Johnson

 

Florida Field Trip
When the Florida Legislature overwhelmingly passed a far-reaching insurance reform bill last month, lawmakers in Louisiana took note. South Florida is very much at risk from Atlantic storms, but the Sunshine State still manages to offer homeowners an innovative insurance package. A group of Louisiana officials is traveling to Tallahassee this week to see if any of Florida's practices can be incorporated back home. It's a risky set-up: Florida homeowners will see lower rates unless the state doesn't have enough money to pay claims from a future hurricane. If that happens, policies on homes and cars would go up. For now, premiums cost less, and Florida's own Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state's insurer of last resort, is experiencing a growth spurt. Additionally, for two years, the legislation prevents insurance providers from jacking up rates without first asking state regulators. Sen. Butch Gautreaux, a Morgan City Democrat on the fact-finding mission, says Louisiana might not need to go as far as Florida in outlawing rate hikes, but there may well be a middle ground. "We all face the same challenges, and we are both struggling with affordability," he says. "They're sharing all their research with us." Thus far, representatives from the governor's office and insurance department have signed on for the trip, as have New Orleans Sens. Ed Murray, a Democrat, and Julie Quinn, a Republican, and Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Terrebonne Parish. -- Alford

 

More Merging Ahead
The one thing Louisiana has been proficient at since the 2005 storm season is forming new groups and organizations to promote recovery efforts. There's the LRA, CPRA, Road Home, Louisiana Speaks and a handful of local and regional collaborations. That spirit will continue during the upcoming spring legislative session. Since levee and highway work has wiggled its way into the world of hurricane protection and coastal restoration, Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, says an integrated planning team needs to be formed by merging certain sections from his agency with the Department of Transportation and Development. The shared goal would be completing a master plan for recovery. Some offices are already under one roof, but legislation is needed to put the two together in the law. "We don't want to create another office or the overhead that goes with that," Angelle says. "But it's time to pull the two departments together." -- Alford

 

Political Ironies
Irony can be cruel. U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon sentenced local political consultant Bill Schultz, 57, to a year in prison on the same day that candidates began qualifying for the March special elections in Orleans Parish -- a day when Schultz otherwise would have been up to his elbows in local political gossip and brinksmanship. Schultz is scheduled to report to prison April 7, the day before Easter. He pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of failing to file federal income tax returns; his plea was part of a deal with the feds that required Schultz to pay $183,701 in back taxes (which he has paid) and cooperate with ongoing federal investigations. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons will determine where Schultz will serve his time. Another irony: Schultz once offered "free advice" in a lively Feb. 8, 1993, address to the Loyola University Institute of Politics -- almost 14 years to the day before his sentencing. Among his tips: "Don't be late!" -- Johnson

 

Out of Service
Johnny B. Bradberry
, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, is recovering from recent hip replacement surgery and has been confined to home for recovery. Like most bureaucratic heavies who sport a 24/7 BlackBerry, Bradberry is chomping at the bit to return to work. Sydney Coffee, director of the Governor's Office of Coastal Activities, a division that recently has built strong ties with DOTD, told a House and Senate joint committee last week that Bradberry, a native of Grand Isle, is coming along ahead of schedule, but a complete recovery will take some time. "He wants to come back after a week, but I think that may be too quick, even for him," she says. -- Alford

 

Last-Minute Testimony
The deadline for submitting written testimony to a U.S. Senate committee investigating southeast Louisiana's slow recovery from Hurricane Katrina will be 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13. "We usually take statements from organizations, but not individuals," says Leslie Phillips, chief spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. However, committee staffers will make the final determination on what goes in the record, and there is "no guarantee" that all statements will be included, Phillips told Gambit Weekly in an email. Lieberman concluded the panel's Jan. 31 visit to the Louisiana Supreme Court building by announcing the official record of the proceeding would be held open for 15 days after the hearing. "The senator is interested in drafting legislation to address some of the issues raised," Phillips says. No report will result from the New Orleans hearing, which covered an array of issues plaguing the recovery. Written testimony may be emailed to the clerk of the Senate committee at Trina_tyrer@hsgac.senate.gov -- Johnson

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