The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday harshly criticized the attempt by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to void a consent decree over the New Orleans Police Department.
In a court filing, the DOJ called the city’s actions cynical, unfair and flat-out wrong. The city’s request to abandon the consent decree, and its arguments for doing so, “underscore the need for NOPD reforms to be court-enforceable,” federal attorneys wrote.
The filing is the latest salvo in a now bitter battle over the landmark police consent decree.
Late last month, the Landrieu administration sought to delay and also vacate the consent decree. The city claimed the feds acted in “bad faith,” misled the city on several issues, and has a “pattern of misrepresenting the facts.”
The Landrieu administration is also contesting a separate consent decree over Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office and the city-funded jail, which Gusman runs. Landrieu has said the cost of both of these major reform packages is an undue burden.
The DOJ fired back this evening. The federal agency is seeking to keep the agreed-upon police reforms and push forward with them.
“The New Orleans Police Department has been a troubled agency for decades, and these troubles continue,” federal attorneys wrote Friday. They also pushed for immediacy.
"Time is of the essence because the crime problem has not abated, officers and citizens alike remain in harm's way, and the community continues to be 'desperate for positive change,'" the DOJ filing states.
In this latest filing, the DOJ went point by point through the claims made by the city in its motion to toss the consent decree out.
The DOJ noted that it has provided “significant financial support to the city’s criminal justice system,” to the tune of more than $21 million since 2009.
The feds also stressed that the pending jail consent decree is an entirely separate matter. The federal attorneys vehemently refuted the city’s claim that it was blindsided by the jail decree and the corresponding costs of it.
Federal attorneys stated that the DOJ sent a draft version of the jail decree to Landrieu’s administration in October 2011. The draft noted that the city should allocate funds necessary to carry out the jail reforms.
“If the city failed to appreciate the implication of its constitutional obligations in (Orleans Parish Prison), it is because of its own lack of due diligence,” the DOJ wrote.
Federal attorneys also alleged the Landrieu administration set up a “strawman by arguing that online comments made” by Sal Perricone, a disgraced former federal prosecutor involved in the consent decree, would “somehow negate the city’s agreement to reform.”
Perricone left the local U.S. Attorney's office after being outed as posting intemperate, vicious online comments about local leaders, criminal justice officials and the NOPD, among others. Perricone had also applied to be NOPD superintendent in 2010.
The feds say Perricone played a minimal role in the consent decree, while the city has said his involvement taints the process.
Further, the DOJ addressed the city’s claim that proposed reforms to the NOPD’s off-duty, paid-detail system would violate federal labor laws. Federal attorneys say the city’s assertions are “unfounded,” and point to a supportive letter from Department of Labor.
U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan has approved the consent decree over the city's objections. And last week, she denied the city’s request to delay the reforms, though she has yet to rule on the city’s motion to toss the whole consent decree out.
Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni on Friday night released the following statement:
"The DOJ’s filing today mischaracterizes our interactions over the last several years, especially as it relates to the OPP consent decree. We negotiated the NOPD decree in good faith, expecting the same from the DOJ. After extensive negotiations including cost considerations on the NOPD decree, the DOJ has demanded that the taxpayers of New Orleans fork over an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money for the prison decree.
"It is clear that both the prison and NOPD consent decrees cannot be paid for at this time without raising taxes or laying off or furloughing employees. And it does not make sense to lay off or furlough police officers so the Sheriff can hire more prison guards and pay them higher salaries."
Also on Friday, the city and the DOJ each picked officials to serve on committees that will evaluate and select an independent monitor to oversee a police consent decree.
The city chose: Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse, Chief Financial Officer Norman Foster, police liaison and city contractor Daniel Cazenave, and Deputy City Attorney Erica Beck.
The DOJ picked members of its team already involved in the decree: Roy Austin, Joshua Ederheimer, Emily Gunston, Christy Lopez and Steven Parker.