FBI: 2 Agents 'Not Here'
The two FBI agents involved in the bloody, videotaped Bourbon Street arrest of retired school teacher Robert Davis on Oct. 8, 2005, were not then, and are not now, assigned to the bureau's New Orleans office, local FBI spokesperson Sheila Thorne says. "Their actions were reviewed and deemed appropriate," Thorne adds, citing an internal FBI probe of the unnamed agents. The two agents were among hundreds of law enforcement agents from around the country that were rotating in and out of the city during the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, according to Thorne. The agents' role in NOPD's scuffle with Davis -- broadcast around the world by the AP Television News Service -- came to the forefront after a one-day trial before Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo late last month. Marullo acquitted NOPD officer Ronald Evangelist, 37, of second-degree battery and false imprisonment in the scuffle with Davis, then 64. Marullo then blasted prosecutors in District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office for failing to indict the agents or call them as witnesses. Davis reportedly did not suffer a broken nose and cuts until agents trying to assist three NOPD cops toppled him to the ground. A spokesperson for Jordan said the agents were not indicted because they did nothing wrong and their testimony was not needed. Police codefendant Lance Schilling committed suicide before the trial. A misdemeanor battery charge against a third officer, Stuart Smith, was dismissed before trial after Marullo said prosecutors missed a filing deadline. -- Johnson
NOPD Shakeup Continues
New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley continues to shake up NOPD's hierarchy as the force adopts the "community policing" strategy recommended by private consultant Lee Brown. "Lt. Richard Williams will head the academy, replacing (Capt.) Ernie Demma -- that's official," one source tells Gambit Weekly. Demma's future was unclear at presstime. A 37-year NOPD veteran, he has more years as a captain (16) than many cops have in their entire career. Elsewhere, Capt. Michael Pfeiffer -- Riley's new "change agent" for community policing -- has been promoted to major. As a sergeant, Pfeiffer was involved in reforms enacted by former Police Chief Richard Pennington. Late last month, Riley promoted Deputy Chief Marlon Defillo to assistant superintendent, the No. 2 spot in the department. Defillo replaced Deputy Chief Steve Nicholas, who retired to take a job with the State Police. A key question is who will replace Defillo as commander of the Public Integrity Bureau? The private Metropolitan Crime Commission has praised the internal affairs division under Defillo's leadership as "one of the few bright spots" in the troubled NOPD. Asked why one high-profile commander was passed over for the No. 2 spot, our source said only that during a major change of direction at any organization, "your immediate staff must be totally supportive, or you're done." -- Johnson
'Day of Outrage' Returning from the first Essence Music Festival in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, Essence Magazine Editor Susan L. Taylor has been drumming up support for our city's recovery. In a widely circulated email, Taylor says she met privately with Mayor Ray Nagin and discussed "actions" the public can take on Aug. 29, the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. "There must be a national outcry, a day of outrage, a day of protest ... during which we demand that our national decision-makers redirect our tax dollars away from war and war profiteering to create a regional Marshall Plan that restores New Orleans and the Gulf Coast," Taylor wrote. She also said "tens of thousands of people" will attend a "massive demonstration" being planned here Aug. 29. The main ceremony will be outside the Ernest Morial Convention Center. Echoing Nagin, Taylor further called for a "storm surge of phone calls, e-mails and faxes" to Washington on the second anniversary. Meanwhile, city Homeland Security Director Terry Ebbert could not be reached for comment at presstime as to how the city plans to evacuate thousands of demonstrators, should the demonstration coincide with the approach of another hurricane. -- Johnson
La. Women Know Politics
A national nonprofit concerned with gender issues in politics has released a list of the worst 10 states for electing women. Louisiana, for a change, did not make the roll on this catalog of inequity. In fact, the Bayou State has a long and colorful track record, leading up to Democrats Kathleen Blanco, the first woman to serve as governor, and Mary Landrieu, the state's senior U.S. senator. In 1930, not long after women were finally given the right to vote, Alice Lee Grosjean was appointed secretary of state, becoming Louisiana's first female statewide official. The wives of former Govs. Huey Long and Edwin Edwards also served in the U.S. Senate by filling vacancies, thus becoming the state's first and second women to serve in Congress. Former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs was the first Louisiana woman elected to Congress, succeeding her late husband Hale Boggs. Today, the same spirit exists. The Louisiana Legislature ranks 38th in the nation for female members, a four-point drop from the 2005 list but a clear improvement from 1991, when Louisiana sat near the bottom, according to calculations by the Center for American Women and Politics. -- Alford
A lengthy article about New Orleans violence in the Los Angeles Times contains little that most locals in our "bloodstained city" don't already know, except this, perhaps: "New Orleans' homicide rate (63.5 victims per 100,000 residents) last year was the highest in the nation among cities of 100,000 residents or more, and nearly five times Los Angeles' rate of 12.4 per 100,000 residents." The July 31 article uses Mayor Ray Nagin's post-Katrina population estimate of 255,000 residents. By July 31, the city had recorded at least 113 murders this year, according to Internet activist C.B. Forgotston. At a conservative rate of 15 homicides a month, New Orleans is on pace to retain its dubious distinction as the nation's homicide capital this year, says Texas State University criminologist Peter Scharf. -- Johnson
National crime consultant Lee Brown said recently that it is unfair to compare NOPD to other police departments because of Katrina's destruction. NOPD should only be compared to its own history, Brown says. In 1994, murders in the city reached a record high of 428, roughly 91 victims per 100,000 residents. In the 1850s, New Orleans violence was among the nation's worst, and may have been "the darkest stain on the butcher's apron," historian Dennis Rousey wrote in his book Policing the Southern City (LSU Press, 1996). The city's annual homicide rate from 1857-1860 was 35 per 100,000 residents, compared to 63.5 per 100,000 in 2006, using the city's optimistic post-Katrina estimate of 255,000 residents. Some of the city's pre-Civil War crime problems may resonate today: "[T]he police force was ineffective, witnesses to crimes were frequently afraid to testify, and the district attorney's office was grossly undermanned and overworked ... [and] ... the criminal justice system was not very effective at catching or prosecuting murder suspects," Rousey wrote. -- Johnson
More Tax-Free Days?
Lawmakers love doling out tax breaks, especially when the breaks have broad application, such as last weekend's annual tax holiday allowing Louisiana shoppers to avoid state sales taxes on most items. The savings -- up to $2,500 in purchases are eligible, translating into a maximum $100 benefit -- might be meager to some, but there are indications that it won't be the last tax holiday approved by lawmakers. This past session saw legislators pushing all sorts of tax holidays before deciding on the back-to-school route. Dan Schibley, a tax analyst for the Illinois-based CCH Group, a national provider of tax services, says the trend is taking off nationwide. "We're now seeing the concept expand beyond the traditional back-to-school timing and merchandise and appearing at other times of the year, especially for energy-saving items," he says. Shoppers in Tennessee will have two bites at the apple over the next year, as that state will repeat its August holiday for three days in late March 2008. Georgia decided to split off its holiday for energy-efficient products for personal use and hold that holiday in October, while keeping its school-supplies holiday in August. In the past, both had been held the same weekend in August. Virginia and Texas also created new holidays for energy-efficient products. Previously, Louisiana offered tax-free days for hurricane recovery and related supplies. -- Alford