Sheriff 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.