ZURIK: Text messages reveal Cantrell used police escorts to attend concerts
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s use of an extensive police security detail during the Essence Festival, which outnumbered police presence in some districts, raises concerns about resource allocation amid a manpower shortage and questions regarding the appropriate use of public funds.
On June 30 and July 1, records show the NOPD’s Sixth District has just four officers on duty during the day, covering the Irish Channel, Central City, and the Garden District.
On July 3, the NOPD’s Third District, responsible for about 28,000 Gentilly and Lakeview residents, had only three officers on duty during the day.
Even when factoring in the number of sergeants and lieutenants, the total never exceeded seven officers in either of those districts.
However, Mayor Cantrell had her entire executive protection team, comprised of four members, along with two motorcycle escorts, available for her security on all three days, each working at least eight hours.
FOX 8 political analyst Dr. Robert Collins questions Cantrell’s use of that many officers during a time when the city is experiencing a manpower shortage.
“I mean, it doesn’t seem necessary from a resource standpoint, from a law enforcement standpoint, from a public safety standpoint, that you have more officers - which means more taxpayer money, more resources, protecting one person than protecting all of the citizens entire inside of an entire district,” Collins said.
Collins also says timesheets, schedules, and text messages obtained by FOX 8 through public records requests raise questions about the oversight of Cantrell’s executive protection team.
On July 2, Cantrell had those same six officers protecting her. All six went on the clock at 9 a.m. and worked at least 16 hours, clocking out between 1:00 and 1:35 a.m. In total, taxpayers paid the six NOPD employees for 98 hours and 40 minutes of work in one day.
Mayor Cantrell spent much of July 2 at the Upper Pontalba apartment in the French Quarter. Security camera video shows she left at 10:05 a.m. with police motorcycles leading the way. She returned at 2:30 p.m. and stayed until around 7 p.m., again escorted by police. That night, the mayor attended Essence Fest, according to her city calendar.
“These motorcycle police officers were basically bringing the mayor to entertainment events, to concerts, to parties, things of this nature,” Collins said.
The NOPD issued a statement to FOX 8 saying the motorcycle escorts helped Mayor Cantrell as she “had multiple scheduled appearances which required maneuvering through heavy traffic congestion to meet those demands.”
However, text messages with officers show the escorts helped her get to and from concerts, not scheduled appearances.
On June 29, at 10:15 p.m., motorcycle officer Dwight Sallier sent a text message asking how long the mayor would be at one concert. One of the mayor’s executive protection officers responded, “Might be 11:30 not sure,” later adding, “Soon as Mannie Fresh get off we rolling.”
On June 30, one of the officers texted the talent lineup for Essence and noted the mayor may not “stay the entire time for Hill.” Lauren Hill, the last act of the night, ended at 1:10 a.m.
In another text string, the escorts were told, “We pick them up for 6:30 but she will be on time because she love (sic) Essence.”
“We had six officers protecting the mayor when she wasn’t even attending any sort of official business events. These were concerts. These were parties. These were social events,” Collins said. “Why is she pulling police officers that are actually not detail officers, that are not executive protection officers, from other details when they should be patrolling the street? At a time when there’s a manpower shortage.”
During Essence Festival weekend, Mayor Cantrell stayed overnight at the Pontalba Apartment even after the city council voted to stop overnight stays. Cantrell’s now-suspended communications director, Gregory Joseph, confirmed to FOX 8 that Cantrell’s relatives stayed with her at the apartment that weekend.
Head of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, Rafael Goyeneche, says this could show Cantrell ignored city ordinance and state law.
“It’s violation of the state constitution, I’m sure several city policies … that that entourage arrived that arrived at the Pontalba,” Goyeneche said. “That is a luxury. That is an abuse of authority. Those officers could have been better used to patrol the area and be available to protect and serve the people of the city of New Orleans, not fuel the mayor’s distorted sense of entitlement.”
In April 2023, the New Orleans Inspector General released a letter evaluating the executive protection team and noting the city didn’t have policies in place to regulate and guide the team’s operations. The OIG said the lack of policies and procedures contributed to ineffective and inefficient use of both the executive protection team and the NOPD’s limited resources.
The NOPD promised the inspector general it would put a new policy in place addressing the concerns, but Goyeneche says no changes have been made yet.
He says the city again poorly used its resources on the day of the Beyoncé concert in September.
That day, Cantrell had all four of her security team members clock in at 8 a.m. Robert Monlyn and Lazono Black worked 12 hours. Jeffrey Vappie and Larry Dace stayed on the clock until midnight. Video from the concert showed Vappie and the mayor inside the Superdome for the concert.
“It says that she doesn’t really care. It’s all about her. It is what suits her purpose. So, she’s supposed to be a public servant. And what you’ve documented is an elected official, self-serving, making decisions that are in her best interest in not in the general public’s best interest,” Goyenche said.
FOX 8 reached out to the NOPD for details on the new policy for executive protection, and whether it had been implemented.
NOPD Public Information Officer Reese Harper sent FOX 8 the following statement:
“The development or revision of a policy is governed by the consent decree. This process is time-consuming and involves multiple levels of review and revision. The Executive Protection unit did not have a policy prior to 2023 and thus one had to be created from scratch. After working with other agencies and subject matter experts, our policy writers crafted a draft policy governing this unit. However, per the consent decree, NOPD can not unilaterally implement this or any policy.
After a draft was developed, this newly created policy was sent to OCDM and DOJ for their review and revision. Additionally, although not required by the Consent Decree, the Office of Inspector General was also involved in the development of this policy. OCDM and DOJ both had substantial feedback and recommendations regarding the governance of this unit and provide multiple comments and requests to be added to the draft policy. At the conclusion of the creation of this draft policy and multiple rounds of revision, a decision was made to also issue an accompanying SOP to supplement the policy. OCDM and DOJ were both of the opinion the policy was not able to be approved until the SOP was also crafted and approved. The accompanying policy and SOP both went through several rounds of review and revision by all three parties involved in their creation (NOPD, OCDM, and DOJ). The latest version of both the draft policy and SOP are currently being reviewed by OCDM and DOJ. NOPD awaits their feedback as to whether these versions are approved by both entities or whether another round of revisions will be required.”
The Mayor’s Office issued a statement Thursday night following FOX 8′s report. The statement reads:
“At this point, FOX 8′s obsession with this Mayor and her whereabouts is intrusive and continues to prove their lack of morals and ethics as a media entity.
This months-long ‘Outside the Office’ series has been nothing but a distraction, a disgrace and a true mockery of investigative reporting. Continuing to underscore, disenfranchise and disregard the safety of the Mayor, her family or any public official is not only damaging but irresponsible. Maybe they have forgotten, or conveniently failed to report on, the multiple and real public threats of violence that this Mayor has endured since the beginning of her first term. It is unfortunate and unfair that this media outlet continues to dedicate their time, money and manpower to watch her under a microscope rather than report on the real work this administration has accomplished, from Gordon Plaza to redeveloping Six Flags and Lincoln Beach, and even to the City’s 20 percent reduction in violent crime that is outpacing national trends.
Elected official or not, each and every human being has a fair right to their privacy. FOX 8, in no way, is certified law enforcement personnel. They have no right, jurisdiction or license to determine what is considered proper security protocols. With that being said, the Executive Protection team will continue to professionally and admirably perform their duties as assigned.”
See a spelling or grammar error in our story? Click Here to report it. Please include the headline.
Subscribe to the Fox 8 YouTube channel.
Copyright 2023 WVUE. All rights reserved.