Lack of Orleans sheriff’s transparency creates concern after five jail stabbings in a month

Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 9:35 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Friends and loved ones rushed to the Orleans Justice Center jail Friday afternoon (Aug. 26) upon word of yet another stabbing involving inmates. They said the silence coming from jail administrators is deafening after they and Fox 8 have been shut out of information after repeated violent incidents.

Political observers said they’ve never seen anything like it. As for relatives of Orleans Parish jail inmates, they said the lack of information makes them fearful for the safety of their loved ones, some of whom have been injured with no one from the sheriff’s office saying anything.

Zinitria Stevenson’s 27-year-old son Jerrell has been jailed for the past two months on a domestic battery charge. She says he was injured during a jail protest earlier this month.

He received four broken ribs and a punctured lung, and no one told her about it until seven days later. Now she worries about his safety, and contact with other more dangerous prisoners who could have a beef with him, in a facility that has seen five stabbings in the past month.

“Seven days later. And after he got shot, it took them two days to get him to the hospital and that’s why I want to know why,” said Stevenson.

“How is this happening? Where they getting the weapons? How is it so easy for y’all to get away with that many stabbings in one month? I got to get mine out there,” said Eva Ventry, whose son is in the jail.

Dillard University public policy professor Dr. Robert Collins said new Sheriff Susan Hutson’s lack of transparency -- including singling out Fox 8 to be excluded from press releases and statements sent to other media outlets -- is disturbing.

“I’ve never seen this sort of behavior from a public official in recent history,” Collins said. “If they’re going to exclude the media, they’ll exclude all the media at once.”

Sheriff’s office spokesman Timothy David Ray told Fox 8 on Friday afternoon that a statement on the jail’s security would be coming shortly. He would not confirm the latest stabbing. When asked if Fox 8 would be returned to the OPSO’s official loop when it comes to vital public information, he said OPSO staff would soon be meeting with Fox 8 to discuss the ongoing lack of transparency.

Late Friday night, the sheriff’s office posted a press release on its website finally confirming that two inmates sustained stab wounds on Wednesday in the facility. It said neither wounded man required hospital treatment. The sheriff’s office additionally pledged that going forward, it intends to publish a weekly report on jail security incidents to its website each Friday afternoon.

The Orleans Public Defenders’ office said it’s concerned for the health, safety and well-being of those incarcerated at the jail.

In a statement, the OPD also urged Hutson to address the concerns brought by the protestors last week “in a fair and transparent manner.” The statement said much more needs to be done to make the jail constitutional, safe, and humane for the people who remain in the sheriff’s custody.

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