NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Sheriff Marlin Gusman will fight to keep control over the parish prison he was elected four times to run.
Gusman went before news cameras Monday afternoon, days after the U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys representing a class of inmates filed a motion in court to strip Gusman's authority over the day-to-day operation of the prison, which now has more than 1,000 inmates.
"We think it is unreasonable for the plaintiffs and the Department of Justice to expect complete perfection in only two years when we are overhauling a system that was broken for 30 years before I became sheriff," said Gusman.
The DOJ and attorneys for inmates said the jail remains woefully short in living up to mandates tied to the federal consent decree.
Gusman said he is committed to fulfilling every part of the consent decree. Still, he announced changes to top managerial posts in the jail, but said having a federal receivership for the prison would be a misstep.
"Look, a federal takeover is not the answer. When the feds takeover things, most of the time it doesn't end right. We're going to continue to move forward. We have made material progress, period," Gusman said.
Gusman invited news media, including photographers, to see the now-closed House of Detention, where cells were rusty and musty. Then he gave reporters and photographers an extensive tour of the new prison that was built under his watch. There is new digital equipment, hundreds of cameras. A room that resembles a well-stocked library where inmates work toward earning their high school education.
Housing pods showed modern, clean cells and showers. Inmates watched a color television in a common area. There was a section for video visitations for inmates and a not-yet-used courtroom where inmates could have initial court appearances without leaving the facility.
"We have fundamentally changed how we oversee inmates in our custody, 957 cameras assist deputies to ensure that the jail operates as it should," said Gusman.
He said the cameras will aid greatly in investigating incidents.
Gusman, who has been at odds with the mayor over funding for the prison, accuses the Landrieu administration of being obstructionist.
"It is ironic that the city withholds funding, withholds building permits, withhold cooperation and then criticizes us for the pace of our progress, it's almost as if they are trying to set us up for failure," Gusman stated.
Gusman is reorganizing the top three positions under him. He said Chief Carmen DeSadier has returned to his staff as the Chief Corrections Officer.
"There were significant challenges to me moving the department in the way the sheriff and I both wanted," she said of her earlier time with OPSO.
Chief Michael Laughlin will assume the new post of Chief of Investigations. And local CPA Sean Bruno will be the interim chief financial officer until a permanent CFO can be hired. Gusman said there will be a search committee that includes representatives from the city, the Business Council and the Urban League.
"To oversee the business operations and to put down any of these questions about the financial and business practices and make it accountable under one chain," said Gusman.
The sheriff dismisses the idea of relinquishing any of his control.
"I am doing the best job that can be done, this facility would not be here, but for my work," he said.
Gusman said sheriff's office attorneys would file a memorandum in court objecting to the request made by the DOJ and attorneys for inmates.