Crime

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bill to kill Louisiana’s death penalty passes committee, heads to Senate floor

Posted By on Tue, Apr 25, 2017 at 8:00 PM

State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican and a former prosecutor, wrote Senate Bill 142, which would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.
  • State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Republican and a former prosecutor, wrote Senate Bill 142, which would abolish the death penalty in Louisiana.

When former prosecutor Marty Stroud began his career in Caddo Parish, his colleagues had a nickname for him: "fire eater." Stroud was notoriously tough, and well-known for his staunch support of the death penalty.

That’s all changed now, he told members of the Louisiana Senate’s Judiciary C Committee on Tuesday. He said the tide turned after his prosecution of Glenn Ford, who spent nearly 30 years on death row for a murder he didn’t commit.

“After the death verdict, myself and our team went out and celebrated the night away, comfortable with what I had accomplished,” Stroud recalled. “There was only one problem. The defendant was not guilty of the crime.”

Stroud, his voice at times cracking with emotion, relayed his story during a hearing Tuesday over Senate Bill 142, which calls for the abolition of the death penalty in Louisiana. It was written by Baton Rouge Sen. Dan Claitor, a former prosecutor himself, and a Republican.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Lawmakers to introduce bills to abolish death penalty in the state

Posted By on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 at 1:54 PM

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A proposal to abolish the death penalty in Louisiana could help prevent a crisis the state’s public defenders say they are hurtling toward, unless drastic changes are made in how the state handles defense for the indigent.

But because the bill does not apply to those already convicted or indicted of capital offenses, the savings in money earmarked for such cases will come slowly. And the state’s district attorneys are taking a hardline stance against the idea, arguing to local lawmakers the move would take away a vital tool in obtaining plea bargains — hanging the possibility of the death penalty over defendants’ heads.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, state Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia, and state Rep. Steve Pylant, R-Winnsboro, are authoring or co-authoring legislation that would end the death penalty. Claitor’s bill will get its first hearing on Tuesday.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Landrieu: letter threatening to pull funding over immigration issues is "another example of the Trump Administration acting before doing their homework"

Posted By on Fri, Apr 21, 2017 at 5:25 PM

CHERYL GERBER
  • CHERYL GERBER

New Orleans is among nine jurisdictions targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which threatens to cut federal funding unless they can prove compliance with the feds over their "sanctuary" policies.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has repeatedly asserted to the administration of President Donald Trump that the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office — both of which are under DOJ federal consent decrees — obey federal law, and that New Orleans is not a so-called "sanctuary city" for people living the country illegally.

Today, the DOJ sent letters "requiring proof of compliance," or else. "Many of these jurisdictions are also crumbling under the weight of illegal immigration and violent crime," according to a press release from the department. "The letters remind the recipient jurisdictions that, as a condition for receiving certain financial year 2016 funding from [the DOJ], each of these jurisdictions agreed to provide documentation and an opinion from legal counsel validating that they are in compliance."

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Why do drug deaths eclipse murders in New Orleans? Xavier panel to discuss addiction and "truth behind the numbers"

Posted By on Tue, Apr 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM

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Drug overdose-related deaths eclipsed murders for the first time in New Orleans last year, prompting the coroner's office to remind the city of its "accelerating public health crisis." Coroner Jeffrey Rouse recorded 211 drug-related deaths in 2016, when there were 175 murders.

Of those 211 drug deaths, 166 involved opiates — compared to 81 in 2015. The synthetic opioid fentanyl also was involved in 48 deaths last year. There were 13 fentanyl-related deaths in 2015, when the city recorded 93 drug-related deaths overall.

On April 20, a panel of doctors and health care experts will discuss the "Truth Behind the Numbers: Why Overdose Deaths Have Surpassed Homicides in Louisiana" at Xavier University. The talk hopes to "change the conversation around addiction as a moral failing, and promote the fact that addiction is a chronic disease."

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Trump suspends weekly immigration reports including New Orleans and cities that "limit cooperation" with feds

Posted By on Wed, Apr 12, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Protesters in New Orleans march against Trump's immigration orders in January.
  • Protesters in New Orleans march against Trump's immigration orders in January.

Three weeks later, the Trump administration has suspended its weekly reports listing cities and local law enforcement that "limit cooperation" with federal immigration authorities. The reports listed jurisdictions that declined  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers requesting local law enforcement to maintain custody of people living in the country illegally — New Orleans landed on that list for the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) policy to “not honor a detainer without a judicial order or criminal warrant,” according to the report.

The reports aimed to pressure law enforcement and cities with so-called “sanctuary” policies to comply with President Donald Trump’s ramped-up enforcement of immigration actions. But after three reports and complaints of inaccuracy, corrections and clarifications from cities with orders from the Department of Justice that didn’t satisfy new DHS procedure, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended the practice, “based on a desire to make sure that we have quality data [and] that the information we’re publishing is as accurate as we can be,” according to DHS spokesman David Lapan, speaking to CNN.

The administration hasn't defined "sanctuary" policy — in its reports, DHS says it "continues to evaluate the appropriate criteria" to define what exactly "sanctuary" policies are.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Louisiana Legislature to consider banning the death penalty in this year's session

Posted By on Thu, Apr 6, 2017 at 4:11 PM

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The Louisiana State Legislature is slated to consider a ban on the death penalty in this year's legislative session, after three former law enforcement officials introduced bills in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, the chairman of the senate’s Judiciary C committee and former prosecutor in New Orleans, filed one of the bills.

He collaborated on the initiative, he said, with Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia. Landry, who was a state police superintendent under former Gov. Mike Foster, wrote another bill with support from Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, a former sheriff of Franklin Parish.

Both Claitor’s Senate Bill 142 and Landry’s House Bill 101 would eliminate the death penalty and instead mandate life in prison without the possibility of parole for defendants convicted of first degree murder, first degree rape or treason.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Consent decree or not, NOPD Chief Harrison wants "fair, constitutional policing"

Posted By on Wed, Apr 5, 2017 at 6:30 PM

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform." - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison: "I remain committed and every member of my team remains committed to police reform."

In a recent memo to the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered an “immediate review” of all department activities, including all existing and planned consent decrees with law enforcement agencies. “Local control and local accountability are necessary for local policing,” Sessions wrote. “It is not the role of the federal government to manage non-federal law agencies.”

Since 2009, according to The Washington Post, the department has opened 25 investigations into law enforcement agencies and enforced 14 consent decrees, among other agreements, in the wake of civil rights violations and corruption in police departments around the U.S. Those agreements include consent decrees with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, overseen by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, and New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), overseen by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. Since 2013, DOJ reforms within NOPD — detailed in nearly 500 points on more than 100 pages — aim to overhaul nearly everything within the department, from anti-bias measures and profiling to how officers handle domestic violence cases, efforts to ensure “constitutional policing” across the board.

Former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite — who was asked to leave his post even after he submitted his resignation as President Donald Trump cleaned house — said Sessions’ memo isn’t enough to end the agreements. “Not sure if Sessions knows this,” Polite said on Twitter, “but he can't stop Judges Africk and Morgan from ensuring that our NOLA consent decrees move forward.”

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Getting smart on crime

Posted By on Sun, Mar 19, 2017 at 2:54 PM

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Louisiana lawmakers will struggle to make sense of our state’s fiscal mess when they convene next month, and that struggle will overshadow all other pressing matters. Yet there’s one overarching issue on which legislators of all stripes ought to agree: the need for meaningful criminal justice reform.

Reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice system is actually a fiscal issue. We spend way too much money incarcerating nonviolent offenders — upwards of $700 million a year on corrections. That cost has gotten so out of hand that sentencing reform has become a rallying point for a growing number of conservative Republicans. More need to get on board.

Locking up nonviolent offenders doesn’t make us tough on crime, it makes us dumb on crime — because it turns nonviolent people into hardened criminals while they’re behind bars. Most of them get out at some point. You know what happens next.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Concerts for Indigent Defense to put spotlight on Louisiana's public defense crisis

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 7:16 PM

New Orleans' Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton. - CHERYL GERBER
  • CHERYL GERBER
  • New Orleans' Chief District Defender Derwyn Bunton.
March 18 is the 54th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, a landmark ruling guaranteeing the right to counsel for defendants who can't afford an attorney. But public defense for the indigent in Louisiana — which relies on fines and fees to fund its public defenders — has been at the center of a "constitutional crisis" in which caseloads overwhelm under-funded and under-staffed offices, halting many cases altogether while the state struggles with a perpetual budget mess. A recent lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center takes aim at the state's public defense services.

"Without adequate representation, there is no justice," New Orleans Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton said in a statement. "Our entire system fails and poor people are the ones hurt the most.”

New Orleans, appropriately, will host the first event in a planned series of national concerts to raise awareness of the right to counsel and the crises faced by public defenders offices nationwide. The New Orleans installment of Concerts for Indigent Defense features the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Zena Moses and Rue Fiya, Junko Beat (also featuring Orleans Public Defender Will Snowden), Caren Green, Mystic Beez, Casme, Britney Chaunte, Dedrick West, K.Levy, Justin Parker and others. In conjunction with the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the concert begins 5 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at WonderLand Production Studios (3233 St. Bernard Ave.). The concert also will be streamed on its website.

"The Supreme Court says you have a fundamental constitutional right to have a lawyer, and yet state after state, if you're poor and accused of a crime, you often don't have access to a decent lawyer at all," says event founder Stephen Saloom. "If you do, it’s not in a timely fashion. When they represent you they are often overwhelmed by a caseload that nobody thinks is appropriate."

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Friday, March 3, 2017

Town hall on transgender violence follows recent murders in Louisiana

Posted By on Fri, Mar 3, 2017 at 6:00 PM

A memorial during 2016's Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience in Armstrong Park.
  • A memorial during 2016's Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience in Armstrong Park.

Following the deaths of Ciara McElveen and Chyna Gibson in New Orleans and Jaquarrius Holland in Monroe, advocacy group Transitions Louisiana will host a town hall on transgender violence next week. The meeting is 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 10 at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (2903 Jefferson Ave.). NOPD's LGBT liaison Sgt.​ Frank Robertson and At-Large City Councilmember Jason Williams also will be present. The violence in 2017 follows two of the deadliest years for transgender people in the U.S., including several deaths in Louisiana.

"This is a crucial moment in New Orleans and ​in ​the country itself," Transitions Louisiana Executive Director J. Mercedes Cardona told Gambit.

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