NEW ORLEANS - Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and his top staff running the prison took a beating Wednesday as court-appointed monitors testified that the sheriff has fallen seriously short of complying with the two-year-old federal consent decree.
At stake in the hearing that is expected to last three days is the sheriff's ability to run the brand new facility.
Mental Health expert Raymond Patterson testified that Gusman did not meet requirements to have suicide prevention policy and training in place by April. If those were in place, he testified, the March suicide of inmate Cleveland Tumlin could have been prevented.
Most of the testimony came from lead monitor Susan McCampbell, who said Gusman seems willing to make reforms, but lacks the fundamental knowledge of how to run a jail. In a memorable quote, she said.
"They just have no clue," she said. "We are dealing with people's lives here. Inmates' lives and deputies' lives.
The hearing was not without politics. There was posturing and there were voices from the community, both for and against removing Gusman as the head of the jail.
"Sheriff Gusman has one job, to make sure that people under his care are cared for and he fails at that every single day," said one of the protestors hoping to have the jail taken away.
"The mayor has tried to take money away from sheriff, FEMA money, and the sheriff would not give it to him," said Pat Bryant in defense of Gusman. "The mayor has not tried to fund the sheriff's office, and the sheriff' keeps pressing."
In the past, Gusman has defended his record, saying the jail is in compliance or making progress in 108 of the 173 areas covered by the decree.
Gusman has accused Mayor Mitch Landrieu and his administration of setting him up to fail.
"It is ironic that the city withholds funding, withholds building permits, withholds cooperation and then criticizes us for the pace of our progress," Gusman said. "We must have cooperation from the city on funding and salaries to accelerate the pace of reform.
Landrieu disputed Gusman's claim, saying the city doubled the sheriff's budget.
The hearing is expected to last through Friday and could result in a federal expert taking over the reins of the facility from Gusman.
Gusman issued a statement on the hearing Wednesday evening. Here is what it read:
“Every jail in the United States strives to be as perfect as the lead monitor would like them to be. But the reality is no jail in the United States, including ours, can reach the utopian level of perfection discussed in court today in such little time. The reality that the OPSO faces every day is that individuals are placed in our custody who have violent histories and mental and physical health issues. We have to care for them in the safest way possible but without the funds to do so. That is the reality.We have made substantial strides towards consent decree compliance. In court today, plantiffs’ attorneys used documents that are over a year old, showing blatant disregard for the progress that’s been made. Current data and statistics support our progress and accomplishment.We recognize there is more work to be done. As Sheriff, I have made tough decisions resulting in robust changes to the office. I hired a 30-year corrections professional to lead the jail. Chief Carmen DeSadier has full autonomy as she works to achieve compliance. At a time when the City refused to even suggest or help with a solution to house the acute mentally ill inmates, I created the Elaine Hunt mental health unit which was praised in court today by the lead monitor.The monitor’s comments in court today were insulting, derogatory and unfounded. The resulting headlines overlooked that fact that during cross-examination, she conceded my qualifications to serve as Sheriff as well as the progress we’