Story Summary

NOPD & OPP Consent Decrees

Department of Justice – Eastern-District-of-LAThe Department of Justice says that, based on the amount of crime in New Orleans (particularly crime involving NOPD officers as perpetrators), the NOPD cannot maintain law and order in the city.

In order to protect the residents of New Orleans, the City and the NOPD agreed to “fundamentally change the way it polices throughout the New Orleans Community.” (1)

The City of New Orleans, which funds the NOPD, has attempted to stop the Consent Decree, saying it will cost too much to fund a Consent Decree Monitor (a person to oversee the changes to the NOPD) in addition to the cost of the changes to the Department.

The DoJ has drafted a similar Consent Decree dealing with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Orleans Parish Prison.

A collection of the legal documents involving the NOPD Consent Decree can be found here: http://www.laed.uscourts.gov/Consent/consent.htm

(1) Proposed Consent Decree

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Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman announced a partial and temporary funding of the sheriff office’s federal consent decree.

The agreement will dedicate $1.88 million for hiring additional deputies and medical staff at the parish jail.  It will also give deputies a pay raise.

Landrieu’s office also pointed out that the agreement was reached without any court order.  A statement from the mayor’s office also said the money will come from funds saved by reducing pretrial population at the jail.

Gusman’s office released a statement saying that, while a judge did not order the agreement, U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk did sign off on it.

Gusman says the money will be used, among other things, to hire 42 additional jail security personnel.

Gusman’s statement also showed the pay increases included in the agreement.  Base pay for deputies will see the biggest boost going from $21,000 to $27,000 a year.  Corporals, sergeants, and lieutenants will also get pay raises between $1,000 to $5,000.

Landrieu’s office says continuing the funding in 2014 will be part of the upcoming budget hearings for that year.

Tell us how you really feel, Mayor Landrieu! The mayor says the feds are forcing the city to pay too much money for a law firm to monitor the NOPD’s consent decree.

He says a big Washington, D.C. law firm will get $8.5 million to oversee the process, while the firm he wanted was offering to do the work for about a million dollars less.

However, civil rights groups had blasted the mayor’s choice for being led by a former top cop accused of ignoring police misconduct.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement today following the selection of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton as the New Orleans Police Department Consent Decree Monitor.  Sheppard Mullin’s contract is capped at $8.5 million.  The competing firm’s cost was $7.1 million, approximately 1.4 million less than Sheppard Mullin.

“We are very concerned about the taxpayers of New Orleans paying the high cost of Washington, DC lawyers’ billing of up to $491 an hour, plus their travel expenses and incidentals.

“Every dollar we pay a high-priced monitor is a dollar we cannot spend on more police, NORD or fixing our streets.  If this firm had met the more competitive cost of the other proposal, the City would have saved $1.4 million.  That’s $1.4 million that could have instead fully funded a new NOPD recruit class of 30 for a year, or an entire 12 week NORD summer swimming program, or the repair of more than 75,000 potholes.  That’s why we are fighting so hard to negotiate the best value for the taxpayers.

“We are particularly leery of this firm’s history of overcharging municipalities.  In a separate case, a judge called Sheppard Mullin’s billing ‘excessive and unreasonable … transcending beyond the stratosphere into deep outer space.’”

Monday night, Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a statement critical of the law firm selected to monitor the federal consent decree for the NOPD.

Landrieu said the big Washington, DC, firm will get $8.5 million to monitor the consent decree when another firm was willing to do the same job for $1.4 million less.

The mayor says the extra money could have been used to improve the NOPD, streets, or other problems facing the city.

The feds and city entered into an agreement for the consent decree to reform the NOPD, but Landrieu says the feds were less than forthcoming about another, similar consent decree with the parish jail.  Landrieu says the city cannot afford to pay for both agreements, so the city is fighting the consent decrees in court.

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Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Sheriff Marlin Gusman are both trying to show they got what they wanted from a federal judge’s decision on Thursday.

Judge Lance Africk gave the green light for the federal consent decree for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office to proceed.  The plan aims to improve the sheriff’s office although its exact detail and price have yet to be released.

Landrieu has made it clear the city cannot afford consent decrees for both the OPSO and the NOPD, which has a separate agreement.  The mayor claims Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s management of the jail is the real issue, not the funding it receives from the city.

“He (the judge) also noted that the court has not determined that any additional funds are needed to remedy the the problems,” Landrieu said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

Gusman has a different take on the judge’s decision and any claim by the city that it was omitted from OPSO consent decree discussions.

“It was an active participant and now is the only barrier to improvement,” Gusman said in his own statement this afternoon.

The judge’s decision comes on the same day that the New Orleans Inspector General’s Office released a report on jail funding in 2011.  The report says the jail appears to be adequately funded.  But because the city and jail categorize expenses using different terms, it’s impossible to tell how the city’s money was spent.

landrieu – mitch 01New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued the following statement regarding Judge Africk’s ruling on the OPSO consent decree and the Inspector General’s report on OPSO funding:

“Judge Africk’s ruling today is a clear condemnation of the conditions and operations of the Orleans Parish Prison.  He also noted that the Court has not determined that any additional funds are needed to remedy the problems.   Separately, the Inspector General today reported that ‘the jail appears to be adequately funded, and neither additional money nor financial audits would fix its problems.’   I will continue to make our case to the Court that the problems at OPP are more about management than money.  The only way to fix the conditions and operations at the jail is to put a federal receiver in place that will run a safe and secure jail in a financially responsible way.”

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Wednesday, a federal judge lifted a temporary stay on a federal consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said the city is unable to pay for the city’s two consent decrees, the one for the NOPD and another for the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In a statement, Landrieu said the problems with the OPSO are about more than spending money on reforms.

“I cannot in good conscience cut vital services or raise taxes to put even more money into the Sheriff’s Office where waste, fraud, and abuse run rampant,” the mayor’s statement reads.  “Come hell or high water, we will reform the New Orleans Police Department and improve conditions at the jail.”

Sheriff Marlin Gusman released his response to the mayor’s comments later in the day.  Gusman says the problems with the parish jail have been around longer than he’s been sheriff.  He also accused the mayor of trying to divert attention from what needs to be done.

“This administration is diverting attention away from its failure to properly fund the Sheriff’s Office,” the sheriff’s statement reads.  “The city needs to be seeking a solution and not another delay.”

Landrieu said the city plans to continue to fight the implementation of both consent decrees in court next week.

 

gusman, marlin sheriffSheriff Marlin Gusman was the last witness in this week’s consent decree hearing in federal court.

Darian Trotter takes a look at highlights of his testimony, and reaction from onlookers.

“I came here today to just see how he would explain himself,” Michelle Hitzman-Perdomo said.

But by all accounts, Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman said little to explain substandard conditions within the prison system.

Some of them were exposed in shocking video that surfaced during this week’s consent decree hearing to reform the Orleans Parish Prison.

“The Sheriff just seems to be so far removed from the day to day operations of that jail,” said prison reform advocate Norris Henderson. “It just seems like he doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on inside the jail.”

On the witness stand Sheriff Gusman said he didn’t remember seeing an inmate with a  loaded handgun; and he only vaguely remembers seeing other parts of what he described as ‘fuzzy video’ in 2009.

Gusman did however remember claims that launched an investigation and subsequent shake down at the jail.

But he says no contraband was ever found to substantiate the claims; and no evidence was found to implicate deputy involvement.

Therefore no one was reprimanded, and no charges were filed against inmates.

Gusman deferred to his Internal Division.

“That’s what I’m really appalled at because the buck stops with him,” Henderson said.

“This is video evidence showing no one is watching; no one is taking responsibility for what’s going on inside that prison,” Hitzman-Perdomo said.

Loved ones of victims were disappointed by Gusman’s testimony, but not surprised.

Michelle Hitzman says her twin brother Michael’s suicide could have been prevented, if deputies had kept watch.

“He made several attempts before he was successful in hanging himself,”  she explained.

“If people would have just done their job,” Donna Gauthier said.

Gauthier’s brother was placed on suicide watch in August.

“Six days later, he was dead,” she said.

Then there are claims of inmate violence.

“I was stabbed in my face above my right eye, two months in there and nobody helped me,” Jaime Hernandez said. “The deputies, seems like they’re afraid of the inmates themselves.”

As city attorneys hammered away to establish management shortfalls at the jail, Gusman admitted that there are challenges — largely due to staffing issues.

But says he’s done the best he can.

“I think we had three really powerful days of evidence,”  said Southern Power Law Center attorney, Katie Schwartzmann.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs say no matter how much Gusman could not recall, or was repeatedly not clear about — the hearing solidified their claims.

“We’re hopeful for a good outcome, and we’re finally on the path of reforming the jail,” Schwartzmann said.

The video now making national news had been locked up in a safe in the Sheriff’s Office, which Gusman said he never knew existed.

He says he didn’t even know how to unlock it.

Judge Lance Africk wrapped up the hearing encouraging all parties involved work together.

A decision on the proposed consent decree is still weeks away.

landrieu state of the city 05.22.2012New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is calling an emergency meeting of the New Orleans City Council for Thursday morning.

They mayor wants to discus the costs of the two federal consent decrees with the city.

The first consent decree deals with the NOPD, and city council members say they’ve budgeted the money to fulfill its obligations.

But the second consent decree deals with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Department and could force the city to find tens of millions of dollars it doesn’t have.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the mayor says, “It is important for the public to know the crippling consequences the City faces if we are forced to write the Sheriff a blank check.”

The meeting is set to begin at 10:00 Thursday morning in city council chambers.

Upset citizens pushing for police reforms brought their concerns to the first of several public meetings to address the New Orleans Police Department’s federal consent decree.

The decree aims to resolve a number of alleged patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct at the N.O.P.D.

The selection committee whittled a list of contractors who will monitor the N.O.P.D.’s compliance down to five.

The contract awarded to the monitor will cost the city of New Orleans close to ten million dollars.

At the next consent decree public meeting April 2nd the selection committee will invite the five candidates chosen on Thursday for a presentation.

All consent decree meetings are held at the Superdome’s Bienville Room.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013, at 8:00 a.m.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at 8:00 a.m.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013, at 9:00 a.m.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013, at 9:00 a.m.

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