Friday, May 26, 2017

New Orleans sexual assault survivors speak out against DA; Cannizzaro's office responds

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 10:15 PM


Steps away from the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office May 26, rape survivors and advocates called out what they said was chronic negligence and apathy towards sexual assault cases within the New Orleans criminal justice system. A new group, Judicial Reforms For Sex Crimes (JSRC), urges police and prosecutors to end discrimination against survivors of sexual assault, and encourages other survivors to share their stories. Several survivors shared their stories and invited others to do the same.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Landrieu: New Orleans is "fully compliant" under Jeff Sessions' "sanctuary" definition

Posted By on Tue, May 23, 2017 at 5:56 PM

New Orleanians marched against President Donald Trump's immigration orders in January. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • New Orleanians marched against President Donald Trump's immigration orders in January.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu said New Orleans "is not and has never been a sanctuary city" following a memo from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that clarifies President Donald Trump's executive order to crack down on so-called "sanctuary" policies prohibiting local cops from working with federal immigration authorities. Sessions' definition of "sanctuary" policies appears to keep New Orleans out of federal scrutiny, for now.

"It appears that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security heard the call from mayors and police chiefs — that our local police should be focused on fighting violent crime and building trust with the communities they serve,” Landrieu said in a statement.

Landrieu has repeatedly ensured New Orleans' compliance with the feds in regards to people living in the country illegally — the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), under a federal consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice, does not ask about an individual's immigration status, but the department is not explicitly prohibited from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Landrieu sent a letter to Sessions last month detailing NOPD's policies and urging the feds to "stay focused on the real problem and stop scapegoating the immigrant communities and cities."

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Bill on domestic violence protections for 'dating partners' moves to full state Senate

Posted By on Tue, May 23, 2017 at 1:40 PM

State Rep. Helena Moreno.
  • State Rep. Helena Moreno.

A Louisiana Senate Judiciary Committee favorably dispatched a bill to the full Senate for final debate Tuesday that would provide dating partners the same protection afforded spouses.

Dating partners involved in domestic abuse cases only can be charged with simple battery under current law. Domestic abuse battery carries more severe penalties. Louisiana is one of nine states where domestic abuse law does not recognize dating partners and does not allow the same protection as spouses.
House Bill 223, by State Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, creates a new section of law for dating partners, which is the same as the domestic spousal abuse law, except it does not ban the guilty dating partner from owning a firearm for 10 years.

The presence of a firearm in an abusive relationship increases the chances of a homicide by about 500 percent, according to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Moreno’s bill would trigger a federal ban on firearm possession for more intense acts of violence, such as burning or strangling the victim, or for repeat offenders.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bill to end death penalty in Louisiana killed in House committee

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2017 at 8:08 PM

A bid to end the death penalty in Louisiana was killed Wednesday night after a House committee rejected a bill that would eliminate capital punishment by a single vote.

The bill’s failure to get past the Administration of Criminal Justice committee seemed to signal that an identical bill that had been passed by a Senate committee, authored by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would also fail to advance through legislature.

After Wednesday’s vote, Claitor said he would abandon his bill as well, according to multiple reports.

One of the nine lawmakers to vote against the bill, Rep. Steven Pylant, R-Winnsboro, was actually a co-sponsor of the bill. It was authored by Rep. Terry Landry, D-New Iberia.

During debate on the issue, Pylant, a Republican and retired sheriff of Franklin Parish, said he was in fact “100 percent in favor of the death penalty,” and said he had put his name on the prospective legislation so that the public could be aware of how infrequently the death penalty was being administered in Louisiana, despite it being a law on the books.

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Friday, May 12, 2017

House approves bill adding "dating partner" protections to domestic violence laws

Posted By on Fri, May 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM


Legislators in Baton Rouge agree that "dating partners" — not just spouses and family members — should be included in domestic violence protections. The Louisiana House of Representatives voted May 11 to extend those protections, including preventing offenders from carrying firearms, to dating partners — a distinction applied in 41 other states.

The House voted 59-30 to approve New Orleans Democratic state Rep. Helena Moreno's House Bill 223, which now heads to the state Senate for approval.

It's a significant arm twist to the National Rifle Association (NRA), whose grip on legislators effectively killed several measures over the years that would prevent violent offenders from possessing firearms. The NRA argued "dating partners" encompasses too broad a group — despite reports from the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence showing that, in 2016 alone, 60 percent of Louisiana's intimate partner homicide victims were not married to their abuser.

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

"Sanctuary" city bill fails in Louisiana House

Posted By on Tue, May 9, 2017 at 6:30 PM

New Orleanians marched against President Donald Trump's immigration orders in January. - PHOTO BY KAT STROMQUIST
  • New Orleanians marched against President Donald Trump's immigration orders in January.

Legislators in the Louisiana House of Representatives failed to pass a bill that defines "sanctuary" cities and gives the state Attorney General authority to withhold state funding to them.

House Bill 676 was a second attempt from state Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, who was able to get support for her measure in the House last year, though it later died in the Senate. With 70 votes needed for passage this time around, Hodges' measure — bolstered by aggressive support of Attorney General Jeff Landry — failed 64-32, following questions from New Orleans lawmakers challenging its constitutionality and whether it supports racial profiling.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lee Circle march faces white supremacist groups as New Orleans prepares to take down Confederate-era statues

Posted By on Sun, May 7, 2017 at 11:00 PM

At Lee Circle May 7, white supremacist groups and monument supporters were separated from a massive group calling for the removal of Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans - ALEX WOODWARD
  • At Lee Circle May 7, white supremacist groups and monument supporters were separated from a massive group calling for the removal of Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans

The horns of the New Creations Brass Band powered a massive march to celebrate the removal of four Confederate-era monuments in New Orleans. Winding through the French Quarter from Congo Square to the steps of Lee Circle, hundreds of people joined the "second line" led by longtime civil rights advocates who have fought for years against white supremacist statues in New Orleans.

Last month, the city removed the first of four monuments scheduled for removal from the city's landscape following two years of debate, legal challenges and court rulings that ultimately gave the city approval to take them down.

The May 7 march was met by a few dozen white supremacists and monument supporters who gathered at the foot of the Robert E. Lee monument to wave Confederate flags and flags bearing the symbol of white nationalist group League of the South. Some wore baseball helmets, face masks, shin guards and armored vests — the uniform of an emerging paramilitary arm of the emboldened "alt-right" — and came armed with flagpoles, shields, pepper spray and guns.

With some traveling as far as California, the mostly out-of-town crowd of monument supporters came prepared to do battle with "antifa" and deliver a bloody response in the wake of April's clashes in Berkeley, California, while narratives on right-wing websites hyped a new "Battle of New Orleans."

Instead they were met by members and supporters of Take 'Em Down NOLA and other civil rights and workers groups — many of the same people who have marched repeatedly against the monuments, police violence, and Donald Trump's administration and policies, among other issues — all dancing alongside a brass band and a DJ blasting music from a truck.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Report: No charges against officers in Alton Sterling death

Posted By on Tue, May 2, 2017 at 7:30 PM

Hundreds of people rallied at Lee Circle in 2016 following the death of Alton Sterling.
  • Hundreds of people rallied at Lee Circle in 2016 following the death of Alton Sterling.

As Baton Rouge braces for a decision nearly a year after the killing of Alton Sterling by police and the heavy summer that followed, The Washington Post reports the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will not bring charges against the two officers.

Sterling was killed by police July 5, 2016 after they had pinned him to the ground outside Triple S Food Mart, where Sterling sold CDs and family and supporters have gathered in the months following his death. On July 6, the DOJ announced it had opened a civil rights investigation.

If the feds refuse to bring federal charges against the officers, the decision could rest with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to decide whether to bring state charges. On Twitter, Landry said his office will not comment until the DOJ makes a formal announcement. Gov. John Bel Edwards also has declined to comment pending confirmation from the DOJ.
According to The Washington Post and several Louisiana outlets, Sterling's family was not notified of the DOJ decision prior to media reports. In a statement, newly elected Baton Rouge mayor Sharon Weston Broom said she is "appalled that this news, whether true or false, has been disseminated without a formal decision being relayed to the Sterling family first." U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond said the report and lack of an announcement to the family "is an indictment on [the] DOJ."

"It completely undermines the credibility and transparency of [the Justice Department]," he said on Twitter.

Following Sterling's death and police response, thousands of people participated in demonstrations in Baton Rouge (where they were met with heavily armed and armored state and local police) and around the U.S. and in New Orleans, where hundreds of people gathered at Lee Circle to rally against police violence.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Getting smart on crime: Criminal justice reform bills in the legislature

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 1:46 PM


The yearlong push for criminal justice reform in Louisiana will reach a critical point this week when a state Senate committee considers a handful of bills that reverse decades of overreaction to nonviolent crimes. It’s a small but vitally important step, but it’s encouraging that opposing sides are finding common ground.

Crime and justice always are hot-button issues, but effectively dealing with incarceration and rehabilitation requires a clear head — and politicians with the guts to stand up for what’s right in the face of demagogues who will assail them for being “soft on crime.”

Several lawmakers stand out as examples of that kind of courage: Sens. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, and Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge; Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego; Reps. Walt Leger and Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans; Rep. Joe Marino, I-Gretna; Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma; Stephen Dwight, R-Lake Charles; and Rep. Julie Emerson, R-Carencro. They are sponsoring the reform bills this year.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Domestic violence protection for same-sex couples, dating partners moves to Louisiana House

Posted By on Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 2:25 PM


The House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice passed without objection two bills extending domestic violence protection to same-sex couples and to dating partners. They move to the full House for expected debate next week.

Under current law, the victims of domestic violence are given some protections and assistance through the Protection From Family Violence Act. Domestic abuse is considered to be an act of violence committed by one household member to another.
In Louisiana, same-sex couples are not eligible for the assistance because current law defines a household member as “any person of the opposite sex presently or formerly living in the same residence with the defendant as a spouse, whether married or not.”

House Bill 27 by state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, would amend the definition of household member to include all couples with the elimination of the phrase “opposite sex.”

Two representatives from the Jefferson Parish District Attorney’s office said they are not able to charge a suspect in same-sex violence as domestic violence, a more serious crime, instead having to opt for simple battery — a misdemeanor.

“(An abusive partner) should be prosecuted equally as anyone else would whether they’re opposite sex or not,” said state Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.

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