NEW ORLEANS — One day after officials broke up a protest at the Orleans Justice Center, Sheriff Susan Hutson addressed New Orleans City Council members. The inmates took over their pod this past weekend, sending jail officials a list of demands.
"They are in there for a reason absolutely, I understand that, but they are still human," Dawanna James, whose son was one of the 44 inmates who barricaded themselves in their pod this weekend said.
James has been anxiously waiting for a phone call from her son.
"I'm just waiting to hear from him. If he's okay, why is he not able to call or has he had something to eat yet. Those are my concerns for my child," James said.
Sheriff Hutson said the standoff with sheriff's deputies and inmates started Friday when jail staff was doing a formal count of residents which required them to go to their cells, but they refused. For the next 48 hours, they barricaded themselves in their pod.
"This pod is the highest security pod and has experienced violent issues so we cant have them all out at one time," Hutson said to city council members Monday.
Inmates shouted to those outside that they hadn't eaten or had access to water since Thursday. Sheriff Hutson said they were offered food water and medication several times, but refused to take it. She told deputies not to use force if they don't have to and the standoff was non violent at first.
"They were doing the limbo and dancing. It was a non violent situation. We get to Sunday and that changed," Hutson said. "They said they were ready to go to war."
Sheriff Hutson said there were six so called ring leaders of the protest. Several of them were convicted felons who were placed in Department of Corrections facilities, and only temporarily staying at the Orleans Justice Center.
"They started to make weapons. They broke brooms, started to cover their faces," a member of Sheriff Hutson's staff explained.
Sunday, inmates triggered the sprinkler system, flooding the area, then attempting to break the pod glass door, according to Hutson. The Department of Corrections stepped in, entering the pod around 8:30 pm Sunday, setting off non lethal weapons like stingball grenades. The six protest leaders were transferred from the OJC to a maximum security corrections facility. One person was taken to the hospital
"That was a person who refused medicine because he was diabetic," a member of Sheriff Hutson's staff said.
Five other inmates reported injuries like scrapes.
"We haven't seen the reports yet of what the actual injuries were," Hutson said.
Sheriff Hutson said her office is looking into the requests of the inmates that they shared in a handwritten letter. It includes less time in lockdown, books, a second TV, and to be taken to court on the court appointed date, as they claim transportation doesn't always show up.
"My son was one of them. He was supposed to be taken to court on a certain day and was not," James said.
"The main thing I hear is they want to be out from the morning to 10:30 at night which is not doable with the staff we have. That's the only one. The rest are reasonable provided we can get to them," Hutson said.