NEW ORLEANS - Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman took the stand Thursday morning in the consent decree hearing for the Orleans Parish Prison, saying he disagreed with many of the findings of the Department of Justice.
Thursday marked the fourth day of fairness hearings into the proposed consent decree to reform operations at the jail.
Gusman was questioned two days after the video footage of inmates doing drugs, shooting dice for money and wielding guns inside the now-closed House of Detention at Orleans Parish Prison was shown at the hearing.
When attorney Harry Rosenberg, who is representing the city, asked Gusman about the video the sheriff offered little in detail.
Gusman said he had a vague recollection of a "sketchy" short video sometime after it was obtained in 2009.
But Gusman said he didn't know what happened to the video of the jail hijinks, adding he he didn't know his office had a safe, let alone that the DVD was inside.
There was a report on video, said Gusman under questioning from Rosenberg. “It was prepared. I haven’t seen it. I’ve been briefed on it, but that was back in 2009.”
The city had asked for the video on March 14. Gusman said he talked to top deputies. Last week, federal investigators subpoenaed it, Gusman recalled. "We just said, 'Here it is.'"
The video that was played in court bears "no resemblance" to what he saw, Gusman said, suggesting the video maybe doctored. However, the video was pulled from the sheriff's safe.
Rosenberg questioned Gusman's handling of the jail and whether the consent decree is needed.
“I thought we were doing a good job," said Gusman. "We entered into the consent decree because we thought it would improve the public’s confidence..."
Although he signed the consent decree with DOJ, and despite DOJ findings, Gusman said his inmates' constitutional rights have not been violated.
Rosenberg asked Gusman, "You don't admit that any of the inmates' rights have been violated, even today?"
"That is correct," Gusman replied.
Rosenberg questioned Gusman about deputies using excessive force on inmates, which Gusman denied: "We had a zero-tolerance policy for that."
Asked whether he read the Department of Justice's investigation into his office, Gusman said he did, but "not carefully," and added he doesn't agree with their findings.
Gusman said he is already doing most of the best practices and jail reforms mandated by the consent decree, although DOJ officials would likely disagree.
Regarding the House of Detention in which now infamous inmate video was shot. "It was a very difficult building to manage," Gusman responded when questioned by his attorney. "It was a mess."
In previous testimony, experts have declared OPP one of the worst in the county and former inmates talked about brutal conditions inside the jail.
Gusman testified that the new jail should be ready by January 2014. "We expect it to be operational, judge," he said. He talked as well about the challenges to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina devastated the prison and difficulty getting funding.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu has called on the federal government to step in and manage the jail.
Brendan McCarthy is tweeting from the hearing: