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City councilman, DA spar over police body camera video at heart of investigation

City Councilman Jason Williams and DA Leon Cannizzaro are sparring publicly over a police body camera video at the heart of an investigation.

NEW ORLEANS — On the heels of an NOPD internal investigation into a controversial body camera video of Eight District Task Force officers after a 2018 gun arrest, Superintendent Shaun Ferguson announced the drastic move of dismantling of all task forces while the probe is being completed.

Ferguson said the video raises questions about whether the officers were huddling to get their story straight to justify an unconstitutional stop and search.

In a press briefing today, Councilman Jason Williams said the controversy never should have reached this point.

Williams criticized the District Attorney’s office for not flagging the video sooner and bringing it to the attention of the police department.

“If that goes un-dealt with by the DA's office, tacit or otherwise, then it creates an environment of operating with impunity,” said Williams, who has previously indicated he is running for district attorney.

Williams said that in this case, the video should have been flagged by the DA's screening division, the unit that decides on the front end whether to even accept a case for prosecution. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that the officers’ search was improper.

“When a DA neglects to prudently perform his screening duties, it is not just unfair to the victims and those who are charged, but it is also a slap in the face to the residents of the city,” Williams said.

At a committee hearing earlier this week, Ferguson said he welcomes the additional oversight, from prosecutors or anyone else.

“We are always open to anyone willing to report something to us,” Ferguson said at Tuesday’s remote committee hearing. “Again, it may not be misconduct that rises to the level of criminal acts, but it could be a training deficiency that we need to address at our academy.”

In an emailed statement, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro quickly responded to Williams’ criticism.

“We share the concerns of Supt. Ferguson regarding the performance of the NOPD’s task force personnel and await the findings of the department’s internal investigation. Should sufficient evidence be produced indicating criminal conduct occurred, we will not hesitate to prosecute any officers involved,” Cannizzaro said.

“Our office screens approximately 28,000 cases per year, including the one in question in which a police search found a man with illicit narcotics and an illegally concealed gun in the French Quarter. It was our office that provided the video of the arrest to the suspect’s defense attorney. We sought judicial review of the legality of the search and await the re-opening of court June 4 to proceed after the evidence was suppressed.”

Cannizzaro, realizing the political undertones of Williams’ statement, responded in kind.

“The grandstanding of the councilman today does not change those facts,” he wrote. “Nor do the budget cuts he imposed on our office reduce our reliance upon NOPD officers and supervisors to conduct themselves according to the law before submitting cases to us.”

As for the body cam video, Cannizzaro warned about jumping to conclusions.

“Like any other citizen, police officers also are entitled to due process and an investigation to determine the facts,” he wrote. “We will determine how to proceed once that investigation is completed.”

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