City urges takeover of Orleans jail, Sheriff Gusman fires back

Published: May. 10, 2016 at 11:48 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The city of New Orleans has joined the U.S. Justice Department and inmate advocates in calling for a federal judge to appoint someone to take over operations of the city's troubled jail.

Tuesday's federal court filing comes two weeks after Justice officials and inmate lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to appoint a "receiver" to operate the jail, which would effectively strip Sheriff Marlin Gusman of one of his chief duties.

Officials with the city, which funds the jail, have been at odds for years with Gusman, who operates it. Gusman has complained that Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration and the City Council provide too little money for him to hire and train the personnel needed to comply with court-ordered reforms.

Gusman's office sent the following in response:

"The Mayor of New Orleans and his supporters on the City Council have not spent 5 minutes inside the jail to view what is happening for themselves. How can they make any judgment on the best way for the jail to operate? They refuse to come and personally see the progress we are making. 

"The Sheriff's Office has been forced to make some very tough decisions. At each point, the Sheriff's Office faced unrelenting criticism.

"The notion of the city doubling the OPSO's budget is a lie. The budget submitted by the Mayor's Office and approved by the City Council allocates revenue to the OPSO for programs and activities that do not exist. For example, the City tried to allocate more than $3 million in interest payments for the Law Enforcement District funding as operational funds for the OPSO. That cannot be done. The City also projected that the OPSO would receive $400,000 in revenue from the electronic monitoring program in 2016. The OPSO has not operated the electronic monitoring program since 2015.

"It is ironic that the city withholds funding, withholds building permits, withholds cooperation, and then criticizes the OPSO for the pace of our progress.  Mayor Landrieu issued a stop work order on construction of the new jail, less than one month before we were scheduled to move in.  We had to go to court to fight them.  The mayor then refused to issue an occupancy permit once construction was complete.  We had to go to court again to fight them.  Now we've had to go to court to try and resolve the constant funding shortfalls by the City in their obligation to pay for a constitutional jail.

"It is unreasonable for the plaintiffs and U.S. Department of Justice to expect complete perfection in only two years when we are overhauling a system that was broken for 30 years before I became sheriff.  These situations do not even account for the state of the City's current consent decrees with the New Orleans Police Department and the Sewerage and Water Board. Both of these consent decrees have gone on longer without any talk of a federal takeover.

"While I believe that we will be able to come into compliance quicker than those other places, we must have the cooperation of the city on funding and salaries to accelerate the pace of reform."

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