Voters will decide runoff between Sheriff Gusman & former police monitor Susan Hutson on Saturday

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 8:17 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On Saturday, December 11, New Orleans voters will decide the runoff contest between four-term Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the city’s former independent police monitor Susan Hutson.

On November 13, Gusman grabbed 48% of the vote to Hutston’s 35%.

FOX 8 spoke to each of the two candidates in the final stretch of the campaign about why they think they should be voters’ choice for the powerful position.

Gusman said he has greatly improved the jail including building and operating a modern new facility.

“I have a record of accomplishment, you know, I had a mess when I got elected and it’s been a long journey, but you know we’re at the point now where we are doing very well. We are 96% compliant with the consent agreement and we have numerous partnerships,” said Gusman.

But Hutson says she is qualified for the job.

“I’m the best candidate for the job. I have the experience, the education, the training to comply with this consent decree after eight, now going into nine long years and return this jail to local control,” said Hutson. “I did my homework and I adopted what our community said they want to hear and what they want to see happen which is they want real change, they want to address crime by addressing the roots of crime and helping those who are the most vulnerable in our community, including those with mental health diagnosis and those with addictions, so we can do better for our community.”

Gusman ticked off a list of priorities he still wants to tackle as sheriff.

“I’m looking forward to doing a lot of things, including completing work to make sure that the mentally ill are well taken care of and also establishing even more partnerships. You know, incarceration has changed, you know, we’re not just locking people up now,” said Gusman.

He provided a rendering of the planned special needs facility that would be used for inmates with mental health issues.

“I experienced firsthand the acute mentally ill who are charged with violent crimes, that come to us, they are arrested, come to us and we have to have really the best tools,” said Gusman. “Not having to restrain someone, having clear fronts, having a clinical setting instead of you know, just a cage makes a real difference in the recovery of someone who’s experiencing acute mental illness.”

Hutson thinks the current jail complex could be retrofitted to accomplish that without a new building.

“This particular population, which is less than 50 people, we can retrofit the current jail to safely house them,” said Hutson.

She also said there are not enough staffers for another building.

“Now he’s trying to build Phase 3 which will cost us probably over $60 million and around $8 or $9 million to staff it when he doesn’t have enough staff for the main jail. The numbers don’t add up,” said Hutson.

But a federal judge who is overseeing the jail as part of a consent decree supports the building of a special needs facility.

Hutson was asked how she would circumvent the judge’s wishes if elected.

“Well, what I want the judge to know is that we will have all structures in place to comply with this consent decree within 12 months and the most important part of the sheriff not being able to comply with the mental health part of the consent decree is bodies. We will recruit, recruit and recruit,” said Hutson.

Gusman says he has no choice related to having a special needs facility built.

“The city of New Orleans agreed to build the building and as part of the agreement the Sheriff’s Office gave up any right in the FEMA funds that would go to pay for it, so it’s the city’s responsibility to build it under the law and also under the agreement. “You are right the federal judge thinks that it has to be done, has said that it has to be done and I don’t know why some people think it doesn’t,” he said.

Gusman said under his leadership there is a full-fledged school at the jail.

“We focus on helping people become better when they leave than when they came in and that continues to be my focus. We have a school here, the Travis Hill School. When I came it was a GED Program and nothing bad about GED Programs, but a real school with real diplomas, accredited by the La. Department of Education is a big thing. Transitional work, big program,” said Gusman.

Hutson says she wants to do more work to help inmates prepare for life beyond incarceration, too.

“We’re going to make sure that our community can come in and teach them the things they need to know to get back out on the streets,” said Hutson.

Gusman says out-of-state groups and PACS have poured money into the state to try to defeat him and will control Hutson, who he said would be soft on criminals.

“It’s true, it’s true, you know, the people behind her, including convicts and people who want to defund the police, who want to experiment with public safety aren’t good for this community and they’re spending vast amounts of money, and all of this money is coming from out of state,” said Gusman.

Hutson says Gusman is distorting her position.

“The sheriff has been purposely been misleading about my message. I have said from Day 1 because this jail is just a little, over half full that we have plenty of room in the jail to house people that have committed violent crimes. He’s made some statements about opening up the doors and letting people out. As a former prosecutor and former defense attorney, I know what types of violent crimes that go on in our community. I’m also a cousin to two people that have been murdered themselves,” said Hutson.

Hutson says as sheriff she would allow deputies to help police patrol the city to combat crime.

“We’re going to give deputies an opportunity to patrol neighborhoods, be a visible deterrent in neighborhoods where high numbers of violent crimes are occurring like carjackings or shootings. Our communities have asked for this, so we’re going to do that,” she stated.

But she acknowledged she is for locking up only serious offenders.

“We want to only arrest those who are making us unsafe and for everything else, we can issue summonses,” said Hutson.

Hutson blames Gusman for a mailer that generated discussion on social media that states that Gusman is married with children and is a Roman Catholic and that Hutson is unmarried, and her religion is unknown.

“Absolutely and any investigation into that will show it,” said Hutson. “This misogynist, sexist flyer that shows just how much contempt the sheriff has for women.”

But in his own Tweet and during his interview with FOX 8 Gusman strongly denied his campaign is responsible for the mailer.

“Every single expenditure my campaign makes is documented and reported to the state of Louisiana. I emphatically deny any connection whatsoever, and I think it’s a dirty trick on them, maybe it’s backfiring, I’m not sure but my records are clear,” said Gusman.

Both candidates know they will need to get their supporters to the polls on Saturday. December elections typically do not attract a large voter turnout.

And both candidates know they’ll need to get their supporters to the polls on this Saturday to be successful.

“Yeah, every day we’re hearing how excited people are,” said Hutson.

Gusman said it is important that people engage in the Democratic process.

“I encourage people to go out and vote on Saturday, Dec. 11th; don’t let outside interests control, you know our government, our city,” said Gusman.

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