Parents of inmate who killed himself say OPP video proves case - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Parents of inmate who killed himself say OPP video proves their case

Updated:
James and Pam Hitzman leaving court Tuesday James and Pam Hitzman leaving court Tuesday

New Orleans, La. -- At first glance to some it might appear as a fictional film, but amateur video showing shocking activities inside Orleans Parish Prison is reality.

Shown in a federal courtroom Tuesday, the video captures OPP inmates taking heroin and handling a gun, and even an inmate who had somehow been let out of the prison in the French Quarter.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration takes credit for the video coming to light. The video, which was turned over by Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, was shown during a hearing on the proposed multi-million dollar federal consent decree for the prison, which the mayor says is too expensive.

For the parents of a man who committed suicide inside the jail a few years ago, the video confirmed what they already thought of the prison.

"The things that I saw on the movie today, we can't imagine those conditions that the drugs, shooting up drugs, you know, guns in cells, prisoners drinking 18-ounce beers... it's something that blows your mind, you can't even comprehend it.   I knew how horrific it was, I thought it's even worse," said Pam Hitzman.

She and her husband say their son, 32-year-old Michael Hitzman, killed himself in the jail a few years ago. They say he had a drug problem and was arrested for missing a court date related to his drug addiction.

"My son died of suicide in April 2010 in Orleans Parish Prison.  He wasn't even booked yet, he was still in a processing area and they put him in an isolated cell.  And he went unsupervised for over an hour and 15 minutes and he hung himself during that period of time and he was constantly monitored by video cameras," said James Hitzman.

The Hitzmans want to know how their son was allowed to take his life in prison with guards on duty.

"Isolation is supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes. Michael was never checked on, not once, and the jail had a camera trained on him where he committed suicide.  So the suicide was on tape.  If anyone was watching the new monitors and cameras, he could have been stopped," said Mrs. Hitzman.

Prison expert Manuel Romero spent much of Tuesday on the witness stand, testifying about conditions at the jail.

"It is a very unsafe facility for both staff and inmates," he said.

Under cross examination, Romero admitted to Harry Rosenberg, an attorney for the city, that he did not share his opinions of the facility with Sheriff Gusman, who runs the prison.

The Hitzmans say Gusman is not taking enough responsibility for the prison's failures.  "Absolutely not, absolutely he has not.  He has done nothing, as I see. He's been aware of these conditions since 2008 and the conditions have gotten worse," said Pam Hitzman.

"I feel that the city needs to step up to the plate and do their responsibility, but also I think a lot of what's going on that's needed here is education, training, supervision... it all starts at the top," said James Hitzman.

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