City’s denial of FOX 8 records requests implies criminal investigation into Hard Rock collapse

Updated: Oct. 22, 2019 at 9:33 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -The city has been diligent in keeping the public updated through dozens of news conferences since the partial collapse at the Hard Rock Hotel. But one of the answers the public hasn't heard, is exactly how this happened.

“We ask again that people around please respect what’s going on there because it’s a difficult situation,” said NOFD Superintendent Tim McConnell in a previous news conference.

City leaders haven’t talked details about the investigation in news conferences to this point. However, they say the investigation started on day one of the collapse. In a news conference five days after the partial collapse, city leaders announced how crews would be shifting from search and rescue to recovery operations. OSHA and NOPD have since launched their joint investigation.

“In that process we have allowed OSHA to access the building to do their assessments that’s needed by OSHA. We’ve also provided them with several NOPD body cams for example to make sure they’re equipped as best as possible to capture any information and data points that they deem necessary,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

FOX 8 filed a public records request for copies of those body cam videos and other data collected through that process. The city’s attorney responded to the request saying they did not have to disclose those videos and data citing a state statute that "they relate to pending or reasonably anticipated criminal litigation”.

FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti says there’s no interpreting if there’s a criminal investigation underway, that’s exactly what’s happening.

“They can make it as broad or as narrow as they want, but they can say this is all part of our criminal investigation into either criminal negligence, which can lead to negligent homicide. Or criminal injury or whatever direction they want to go to federally even. So all that can be used, but what it’s telling you is it is reasonable to believe there will be a criminal charge coming, a criminal litigation, that’s what that means,” said Raspanti.

According to the NOPD, the three workers’ death from the collapse remain unclassified, and the investigation open and active.

NOFD Superintendent Tim McConnell said they are continuing to work closely with OSHA.

“They have blueprints they’re working with a city engineer that we have to determine what components they need us to get for them,” said McConnell.

Even as the bodies of two workers still remain trapped under tons of debris, investigators are digging into who may be responsible.

McConnell says OSHA investigators will be on site for the foreseeable future.

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