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New Orleans seeks to strip Gusman of jail control

Sheriff Marlin Gusman (File/AP Photo) Sheriff Marlin Gusman (File/AP Photo)
Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Making good on plans announced last week, the city of New Orleans has asked a federal court to immediately appoint someone other than Sheriff Marlin Gusman to run the local jail.

The city's motion Tuesday to place the jail under federal receivership comes after last week's release of videos - apparently made by inmates - that show inmates using drugs and brandishing a gun in a cell; plus scenes of an inmate roaming Bourbon Street while boasting that he's supposed to be locked up.

The motion asks the court "to appoint a receiver to control all of the administrative, correctional and financial aspects of the operations of Orleans Parish Prison ("OPP") and related facilities - starting immediately." Among the reasons it cites are recent guilty pleas by two former jail officials to bribery charges, as well as the videos.

Gusman said the building where the 2009 videos were made - and from which the roaming inmate escaped - has been closed, and he noted that a new jail building is under construction.

Gusman has signed an agreement with the Justice Department to reform jail operations. The city opposes that agreement, saying it could force taxpayers to spend millions more on a poorly run jail. Mayor Mitch Landrieu has also said the agreement's potential cost, by some estimates $22 million a year, would undermine reforms of the city police department and jeopardize other city services.

The Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents inmates who sued to improve jail conditions, are urging approval of the agreement, noting that funding issues will be sorted out during a hearing next month. They said testimony about sexual assaults, suicides, and beatings by guards and among prisoners is evidence of the need for the pact.

"The people of the city are investing over $225 million to build new prison facilities and over $30 million each year in taxpayer money to operate the jail," Landrieu said Tuesday in a prepared statement. "I cannot in good conscience cut vital services or raise taxes to put even more money into the operations of an office where waste, fraud, and abuse run rampant."

Late Tuesday evening, Sheriff Marlin Gusman responded to the city's formal request to have him removed from running the jail. He released the following press release.

"This filing is another blatant political attack aimed at deflecting the attention away from the police consent decree and the jail consent decree.


Mayor Landrieu has decided to pick another fight, instead of working for a solution. I have a history of public service to this city.


When I was CAO, the budget was balanced and the crime rate was cut in half.


I have instituted reforms at the jail and the Sheriff's Office, since I was elected. I inherited old and outdated facilities and a workforce that was being paid just above minimum wage. Then Hurricane Katrina hit and destroyed the jail complex.


This consent decree is about a lack of funding. Contrary to Mayor Landrieu's blatant lie, his administration has not invested any money in the infrastructure of the jail or in retaining deputies. Not only has he failed to invest any resources since he was elected, he has delayed the construction of the new jail by almost a year. Now Mayor Landrieu is trying to siphon FEMA funding designated for jail facilities for his pet projects. He will come up with any legal argument to avoid leadership and to keep the attention off of his own failure to reduce crime in the city.


There are four parties involved in the consent decree. Three of those parties, including the Department of Justice and the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office, have agreed that the safeguards and improvements can make the Orleans Parish jail a better department. It is a roadmap for a better Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and improved public safety in our city.


The only person who is holding out in moving forward and doing the things we need to do is Mayor Landrieu. It's disappointing.


Mayor Landrieu is also talking out of both sides of his mouth. When he talks about his conscience, he says nothing about ignoring repeated requests from the Sheriff's Office for adequate funding for better deputy pay, training, better jail conditions, and improvements in mental health care.


He refers to a 40 year old problem regarding the lack of proper funding of the city's jail system. That is exactly what I have said for years. I wanted to avoid this problem. I was ignored by the Mayor.


Better staff pay, better mental health care and retaining experienced deputies take proper funding. Today's legal filing is another effort by Mayor Landrieu to delay the improvements that the Department of Justice and the Sheriff's Office have agreed to."


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