NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)— After the Orleans Parish Criminal Court closed its doors on Monday, local officials were questioned about why. WGNO’s LBJ spoke with Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson for an exclusive insight on the court’s operations and what role law enforcement plays.
And, the sheriff says she may continue to do that, even though it brought a lot of criticism.
Hutson told WGNO’s Anna McAllister the center of the issue is a staffing shortage within the department, and she says it could be an ongoing situation.
“We are having an issue of staffing, and that’s why I sounded this alarm,” said Hutson.
Over the weekend, a fight in the Orleans Justice Center left one inmate dead and two others hospitalized. Another inmate died by suicide Sunday afternoon.
This prompted Sheriff Hutson to move deputies from the criminal district court to boost staff at the jail, causing the court to close.
“She literally pulled the rug out from underneath the criminal justice system by withdrawing security from the courthouse,” said Rafael Goyenenche, President of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Those criticizing Sheriff Hutson’s decision say there are other options she could’ve taken.
“Prioritize some deputies by putting the jail on lockdown for a couple of hours to seat whatever juries were scheduled to start today,” Goyenenche added.
Sheriff Hutson says her decision to move deputies was based on who was able to go to the jail to provide additional security.
“As we had others available, we were able to send some back to the court. So, that’s what we’re going to do every day,” Hutson explained.
When asked why she took deputies from criminal district court, the sheriff said it’s because they are trained to work in the jail
“They’ve done that before and they have that experience, so we’re utilizing them more,” said Hutson.
As for her plan for going forward, Sheriff Hutson says minimizing the population by sending convicted inmates to the doc and recruiting new deputies are a top priority.
“It starts with being able to lessen the number of people, bring back some employees, recruit really hard and then use all of the resources we have right now at our disposal to keep the Orleans Justice Center safe,” said Hutson.
According to a statement sent out by the sheriff’s office, criminal district court will resume some in-person hearings on Tuesday, while others will be virtual.