U.S. Dept of Justice

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Judge approves OPP consent decree

Posted By on Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 3:45 PM

5 p.m. Thursday, June 6 update: The New Orleans Inspector General's office issued a report saying the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office (OPSO) is "adequately funded" and recommends that the city "not appropriate funds for the jail unless OPSO provides it with a detailed, functional budget that identifies the specific jail expenditures the revenues support." Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux said in a statement, "The root cause is a dysfunctional structure that gives OPSO a blank check that the City must sign, and ensures that neither the City nor OPSO can be held wholly accountable for conditions in the Jail. The Jail will remain as it is until that structure is changed.”

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk approved a federal consent decree this afternoon between the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice to address the controversial conditions at Orleans Parish Prison.

The consent decree, to be assessed and overseen by an independent monitor, is welcomed by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, though he has repeatedly stressed that his office and the jail are run constitutionally. Gusman instead has claimed that the jail's conditions are due to a lack of funding and leadership from Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city. Landrieu's office has objected to the consent decree, which his office argues will cost the city $110 million over five years.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

NOPD consent decree on hold

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2013 at 4:30 PM

The federal consent decree to monitor the New Orleans Police Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice, is postponed, again. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency stay this afternoon. A selection committee meeting previously scheduled for tomorrow to select a monitoring firm has been canceled.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signed the decree in January. Extensions on the monitor selection process and pushback from the city already have delayed the decree. Today's appeals court ruling now "puts it in limbo."

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Separated at birth?

Posted By on Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 2:55 PM

Nagin-Gusman.jpeg

When was the last time you saw Marlin Gusman and Ray Nagin on the same courthouse steps … or on the same beach in Jamaica? Uh-huh. See where I’m going with this?

It never occurred to me until the sheriff’s bizarre testimony in federal court on Thursday (April 4), and his rant afterward, that he and our former mayor may have been separated at birth. They certainly seem to think alike, if you can call their recent ramblings the product of rational thought.

No need to rehash Nagin’s dementia. It’s a given. But I always figured Gusman was compos mentis. Aloof and prickly at times, yes, but no dummy — and certainly not out of touch with reality.

He sure had me fooled.

What is it about some politicians that makes them retreat into isolation under fire, not just into a political bunker, but also into some alternate version of reality? Richard Nixon in the final days of Watergate comes to mind, as does Nagin after Hurricane Katrina.

Gusman’s performance on the witness stand, after some devastating jailhouse videos were played in federal court two days earlier, put him right up there in that pantheon of paranoia with Tricky Dick and C. Ray.

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gusman slams Landrieu on consent decree talks

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 5:40 PM

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman

After a six-hour round of testimony in federal court over the Orleans Parish Parish consent decree, Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a brief press conference outside OPP's intake center in the shadow (and noise) of new facility construction. As he did last week following Mayor Mitch Landrieu's emergency City Council meeting on the OPP consent decree, Gusman slammed the mayor and defended the internal reforms at the sheriff's office — and addressed the content of a damning video of inmates at the now-closed House of Detention, which closed last year.

"That video from 2009 revealed in graphic detail the devastating effect of rumbling, outdated jail buildings that are lacking modern security measure," Gusman said. "The four-year-old images you saw reflect the old way of warehousing inmates. ... The actions taken in that video are unacceptable and despicable."

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Nagin, feds file joint motion for delay of trial

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 12:41 PM

Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and U.S. Attorney Dana Boente mutually filed a request today to delay a criminal trial against Nagin until October. Nagin, who pleaded not guilty to 21 felony counts in February, was originally set to begin trial at the end of April. However, as today's motion says, it's a large and complex case.

From the joint motion:

"The nature of the present prosecution is complex and involves an extensive amount of electronic and documentary discovery. The current posture of the case makes it unreasonable, taking into account the exercise of due diligence, to expect adequate preparation for pretrial proceedings and trial prior to April 29, 2013."

Read the motion to continue trial: Nagin_Delay.pdf

Friday, March 8, 2013

Heavy tolls

Posted By on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 1:28 PM

This week saw several bombshells in the local political arena: a Baton Rouge judge nullified the results of last November’s bridge toll referendum, and the feds dropped their years-long investigation into the River Birch landfill and its co-owners, Fred Heebe Jr. and Jim Ward. In a sense, both stories were about tolls.

Let’s take the easy part first.

No matter how you voted last November, there’s no denying the logic of Judge William Morvant’s decision to void the toll referendum’s outcome. The facts are undisputed — indeed, the state didn’t even put on a case in support of the results — and the law is clear.

At least 1,000 voters in Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes were given “provisional” ballots that allowed them to vote only in the presidential election. Dozens of local items were on the ballot that day, including the tolls, but provisional voters could not vote in those contests. Many provisional voters were legally registered, but for some reason their names were not on the Election Day rolls. Registrars need to fix that.

Morvant correctly cited state law, which says if it’s impossible to determine the result of an election because qualified voters were denied the right to vote, a judge may nullify that election. Morvant ordered a new referendum on May 4, which happens to be the second weekend of Jazz Fest.

Suffice it to say the turnout on May 4 will be radically different than that of last Nov. 6, and that means toll supporters have an uphill fight. In politics, the easiest thing to do is kill a tax — and many see the bridge toll as a tax. Last November, toll supporters could count on the presidential election to push turnout, but on May 4 they’ll have to drag folks to the polls. They’ll raise fears of bad maintenance, less grass cutting, lights going out on the bridge and the like, but toll opponents have more motivation to turn out: they’re pissed off and they smell blood.

Which brings us to our next topic: the end of the federal River Birch investigation. The immediate reaction in many quarters was that the lengthy probe was a waste of time because it came to naught. That’s not entirely true. While the feds didn’t nab Heebe, the landfill owner bagged a passel of errant federal prosecutors by exposing Sal Perricone and Jan Mann for unprofessional, unethical and possibly illegal actions in connection with their acerbic — and petulant — online commentaries.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

OPP Plaintiffs: "The Proposed Consent Judgment is devoid of steak and cognac."

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 6:46 PM

The plaintiffs in the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) consent decree case today dismissed the argument that a consent decree for the jail would force city government to write a "blank check" to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, the city's main objection to a proposed consent decree for the jail. In contrast, the plaintiffs say in a new court filing, the decree will ensure that the city actually knows what it's spending its money on.

"As opposed to a 'blank check,' the Proposed Consent Judgment is giving the City, perhaps for the first time, a clear idea of how and where funds for OPP will be spent, says the reply, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of OPP inmates.

The plaintiffs argue that the city has thus far chosen to keep blindly funding the prison without demanding better accountability — through the annual budget process or through its party status in Hamilton v. Morial, a lawsuit that resulted in the current per diem rate — even after it had been made aware of the alleged abusive conditions there.

"The City has been formally on notice of deficient conditions at OPP since at least the United States’ 2009 Findings Letter. Since that time, the City has shelled out tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to a constitutionally deficient facility, where people continued to be seriously injured and die. The City took no steps to protest, intervene, seek relief or remedy the conditions."

(More after the jump)

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Friday, March 1, 2013

City files brief opposing OPP consent decree

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2013 at 11:12 AM

The city of New Orleans yesterday filed a pleading in federal court opposing the final approval of the Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decree. While the city is committed to protecting the constitutional rights of inmates in OPP, it says, it objects to being tied to a consent decree while funding remains a question. The court has scheduled a hearing to determine the fairness and necessity of the consent decree for April 1. A hearing on paying for it — how much and who is responsible — is not scheduled until late May.

"...it is respectfully submitted that review of the proposed Consent Decree cannot be cleanly segregated from the funding hearing," reads the filing.

In July, the sheriff's office informed the city that estimated additional costs to bring the jail into compliance could run as much as $45 million in city dollars for the 2013 fiscal year, an increase of about $23 million from its current per prisoner per day general fund allocation. The filing says such and increase would force it to "lay off more than 600 employees or begin furloughing employees for periods in excess of thirty days."

(More after the jump)

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Violent jail, violent city

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 at 3:55 PM

Mayor Mitch Landrieu predicted last month that he and Sheriff Marlin Gusman would have a falling out over the cost of the proposed federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison (OPP). It’s time for that fight to happen, and not just because of money.

City Hall and the sheriff’s office have long had a testy relationship, owing largely to the fact that the city must pay a huge chunk of the sheriff’s budget without any say in how the jail is run.

Now the stakes are much higher than money. The feds last year joined a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) against Gusman, alleging that he runs a jail so devoid of human decency, safety and security that it is unconstitutional. The pleadings paint a picture of a prison that rivals those of Third World countries. Some examples:

• Since January 2006, at least 39 people have died while in Gusman’s custody. An alarming number were suicides and drug-related.

• Yearly since 2008, independent experts and/or the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) have concluded that OPP is unsafe, unsanitary, medically unsound, poorly managed — and that’s just the beginning. Gusman denies the reports, saying they are based on “patient reports and inmate accounts.” Duh. Who else would know how bad conditions are? Last year, DOJ joined the SPLC suit to fast track the process of having conditions at the jail declared unconstitutional.

• In 2012, a review panel on prison rape singled out OPP for its “apparent culture of violence” and recommended that OPP “review the quality of the services it provides to victims of sexual assault.”

• Also last year, DOJ wrote in a letter to Gusman, “Despite our findings and repeated attempts to encourage you to meaningfully address numerous problems, the already troubling conditions [at OPP] are deteriorating.” The same letter cites “alarming conditions … [that] persist or have worsened.”

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Citizens group: Put NOPD under full federal control

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Activist group Community United for Change (CUC) yesterday submitted a brief opposing the city of New Orleans' recent attempt to cancel the New Orleans Police Department federal consent decree. The group even goes a step further than the consent decree, asking the court to consider placing the NOPD under federal control.

"CUC urges this Court to consider placing NOPD in receivership or under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice. The most recent actions of the City of New Orleans illustrate why they are not capable of self-governance in a constitutional manner," the brief says. "In the meantime, the Court should deny the Motion to Vacate."

CUC cites recent precedent in Oakland, Calif., where the police department has been under a consent decree since 2003. Late last year, plaintiffs claimed the department had failed to come into compliance after nearly 10 years, even though the decree was originally intended to last just five years. They petitioned a judge to place the department under federal control, rather than U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) oversight under a mutual court agreement as in a consent decree. The department avoided receivership in name, but a December deal puts it under the authority of a federal compliance director, who has the power to fire the police chief.

The city claims the NOPD decree, coupled with another consent decree over Orleans Parish Prison, would be prohibitively expensive. The group, like the DOJ, dismisses the argument on the grounds that the city has a responsibility to ensure both constitutional policing and constitutional jail practices.

"It is shocking that the City of New Orleans takes the position that people are only entitled to a constitutional police force or a constitutional jail," the CUC memorandum says. "This latest attempt to avoid responsibility is proof positive that the NOPD and the City of New Orleans are incapable of policing themselves."

CUC previously attempted to intervene as a named plaintiff in the consent decree lawsuit. Judge Susie Morgan denied the motion in August. CUC is appealing the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Read CUC's brief: CUC.pdf

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