NEW ORLEANS -- Former New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley fired off a lengthy statement Wednesday afternoon saying it was a "complete surprise" that Mayor LaToya Cantrell had decided to rescind her offer of a job as the city’s director of public safety and homeland security.
Hours earlier, Cantrell issued her own statement that said she would not hire Riley after getting blowback from those who said his oversight of investigations into police killings after Hurricane Katrina were too weak and should have disqualified him from the job.
Cantrell described Riley’s qualifications as “undeniable” but said that concerns about how those killings were investigated cast too much of a pall over him.
“The untreated and lingering trauma so many of our residents still struggle with, the post-traumatic stress that still informs how we all look back to that flashpoint, makes it untenable to move forward with Mr. Riley as part of our new administration,” Cantrell’s statement reads in part.
Included in Riley’s statement was a letter Cantrell sent him -- and which he signed -- on April 22 offering him the position, which would have paid him $180,000 a year. That letter was dated two days before Cantrell told WDSU-TV that Riley was on a “short list” for the job.
The offer was contingent on Riley passing a background check, and Riley said that was done, which would have finalized his hiring.
"I am deeply disappointed, and the mayor's reversal comes as a complete surprise," Riley wrote in his statement.
However, Riley’s own statement Wednesday contradicts the idea that Cantrell’s announcement was a “surprise.”
He wrote that he was introduced to Cantrell’s leadership team as the director of homeland security and public safety. He was not, however, present at a press conference later that same day, May 2, at which Cantrell announced members of her administration.
He wrote that Cantrell met with him 30 minutes before that press conference. “Upon our meeting, the mayor informed me that she was putting a pause on my appointment,” Riley wrote.
It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday if Riley had resigned his position with FEMA or moved back to New Orleans from Georgia, where he lived while working with the agency.
He did not immediately return a message seeking comment. His lawyer’s office said it was planning a press conference but did not yet have details set.
The New Orleans Advocate reported earlier this week that Riley filled out official employment paperwork on April 30. But Beau Tidwell, Cantrell's communications director, told The Advocate the administration never processed that paperwork and his employment status was considered to be “on hold.”
Riley wrote Cantrell’s decision to take back the offer “is concerning on several levels.”
“I am aware of the rumors and untruths being spread questioning my personal character and professional reputation,” he wrote.
Chief among concerns about Riley was what he did or did not do in regard to the Danziger Bridge shootings after Katrina, which led to federal convictions of several NOPD officers who shot unarmed civilians and covered it up.
Riley wrote that he didn’t communicate with the officers while they were on the bridge and didn’t give them orders related to the bridge incident.
“At that time, I was directing rescue operations from (the) temporary police field office located at the Harrah’s Casino,” he wrote.
But the criticism of Riley was never that he directed the officers while they were on the bridge, but rather that he was in charge when officers tried to cover up what happened and approved reports that failed to even mention the shooting.
Riley was also criticized for never fully reading an incident report on the shootings. He admits that in his statement Wednesday, but contends, “I was briefed multiple times by the chief of detectives concerning the incident.”