NEW ORLEANS — Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson met with criminal justice players like judges and the district attorney Monday evening to talk about what they need from her office for in-person proceedings to continue. That will be a daily conversation until a temporary staffing plan is put in place to address courthouses and the Orleans Justice Center.
“We want the courts to be able to fully function,” said Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson.
That’s not what happened Monday after Sheriff Hutson pulled deputies from criminal court and put them in the Orleans Justice Center where she says there’s a staffing shortage.
“We started talking with the criminal justice system about staffing issues, which is important. We don’t know if that’s going to get better. We don’t know if that’s going to get worse. We’re recruiting but we don’t know what’s going to happen with that,” said Hutson.
After a fight in the jail left one inmate dead and two others in the hospital, Hutson increased security at the facility by using deputies who secure the courthouse and a handful of other places the sheriff’s office handles security for. No security forced criminal district court to close Monday. Hutson says it gave her office a chance to see how to best meet staffing needs.
“We were able to do that, then we were able to return some of our team to the different courts, municipal, civil, and criminal,” said Hutson.
Hutson says limited security will be provided so jury trials can resume Tuesday. All other proceedings will be virtual. Hutson says she’ll have daily meetings to discuss needs while a temporary staffing plan is put in place. Some city leaders say it was just horrible timing.
“At a time that we had eleven murders in the last six days, where we have the police making multiple arrests, this is absolutely the worst time to send a message to anyone that there won’t be trials,” said District D councilman Eugene Green, before a temporary plan was worked out.
“We cannot afford to have one piece of the system arbitrability make a decision that could stagnate or stymie the rest of the criminal justice system,” said District E councilman Oliver Thomas, also before that temporary plan was worked out.
Hutson argues she’s not trying to slow down the system, but rather make the sheriff’s office more efficient.
“Now we talk about all the other things we need to deal with. We need some technology to make our team more efficient, we need some training, we need some more supervision to make sure that people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Huston.
Citing security concerns, Sheriff Hutson did want to comment on actual staffing numbers. She did release this statement.
“One year ago, when I announced my campaign for sheriff, I laid out the problems that were plaguing the office and said to our community, “we can and we must do better” – by taking immediate action to increase safety and more fully staff the jail, we are doing better. Currently, our deputies provide security for five separate courts and we will reassess our deployments over the coming weeks. I thank the Judges, District Attorney, Public Defenders, the Mayor, the City Council, and our Community for coming together to work on a plan to address our critical staffing shortage. The safety of every life in OJC, both residents and staff, remains my top priority.”