Sheriff Hutson singles out and ignores Fox 8, communications chief was subject of Zurik investigations

Timothy David Ray was suspended from practicing law after Lee Zurik uncovered thousands in questionable spending during his time as clerk for the First City Court.
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 11:26 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - When Sheriff Susan Hutson was sworn in early in May, she was coming off a campaign in which she branded herself as the “reformer,” promising to bring about change to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and usher in a new era for the criminal justice system in New Orleans.

She also ran on increased transparency.

Since two men died in custody in the Orleans Justice Center over the weekend, leading Sheriff Hutson to make the decision to pull deputies from the city’s Criminal District Court to staff the jail, Fox 8 has reached out to OPSO every day, requesting information and interviews with the Sheriff.

On Tuesday, OPSO Communications Chief Timothy David Ray sent the first statement Fox 8 has received via text to a reporter, shortly before 5 p.m. The statement was on the Sheriff’s meeting with Mayor LaToya Cantrell earlier in the day.

When that reporter again requested an interview with Sheriff Hutson, she was told, “I will get back with you on that.”

Sheriff Hutson has done multiple taped and live interviews with every other TV station in the city, except Fox 8.

Ray, who is now in charge of responding to OPSO media requests, was the subject of a series of Fox 8 Lee Zurik investigations over his misuse of public dollars, leading to the suspension of his law license by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The hearing committee of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board recommended a one-year suspension for Ray, a lawyer who previously held the role of clerk for the First City Court. The decision to suspend his law license came down in March of this year. The committee investigated Ray following a series of reports by FOX 8 which exposed how Ray spent thousands after losing the election for the clerk’s office to the current clerk, Austin Badon.

When Fox 8 saw Hutson live on air in front of the jail with another station at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, we sent a crew down to try and catch the Sheriff. While we missed her, we did go inside the lobby to speak with the deputy manning the front desk.

“What do you want me to tell them?” she could be heard saying on the phone with Ray.

After multiple visits to the jail, Fox 8 still has not spoken in-person with either the Sheriff or anyone on her communications team.

“We don’t know what the actual motivations are, but certainly the optics of it don’t look good,” said Robert Collins, Dillard University’s political analyst. “It certainly looks like sort of payback for a story that exposed some improprieties. If anything, you would think that someone in that situation who was the subject of an investigative report would actually want to be more transparent and more forthcoming.”

Collins said it looks like Hutson and Ray are “freezing out” Fox 8, refusing to answer media requests asking for interviews with Hutson, as retribution for the investigations into Ray. Fox 8 reached out to Ray ahead of this story airing to ask what the reason is for stonewalling the station, but we did not receive a response.

“It’s really strange that they would actually go out of their way to freeze out Fox 8, because it actually gives the appearance that they are being petty and that they are trying to punish Fox 8 for an investigation,” Collins said.

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