After a six-hour round of testimony in federal court over the Orleans Parish Parish consent decree, Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a brief press conference outside OPP's intake center in the shadow (and noise) of new facility construction. As he did last week following Mayor Mitch Landrieu's emergency City Council meeting on the OPP consent decree, Gusman slammed the mayor and defended the internal reforms at the sheriff's office — and addressed the content of a damning video of inmates at the now-closed House of Detention, which closed last year.
"That video from 2009 revealed in graphic detail the devastating effect of rumbling, outdated jail buildings that are lacking modern security measure," Gusman said. "The four-year-old images you saw reflect the old way of warehousing inmates. ... The actions taken in that video are unacceptable and despicable."
The sheriff's office provided copies of the arrest reports of Arthur Johnson and Lester Jones, documented in the videos. They were sentenced to five additional years and an additional three-plus years, respectively. Gusman blamed the escape and subsequent jaunt through the French Quarter on a faulty door at the House of Detention, which he made of a point of defining as the city's property.
"We rectified the faulty equipment to prevent further activity," he said. "The city-owned House of Detention ... embodied the worst aspects of inmate care and security, and that's exactly why I closed that building. I was phasing it out before Katrina, and I closed it over a year ago."
When pressed by WDSU-TV reporter Travers Mackel why the none of the city's criminal justice system was alerted to the video, Gusman said his office investigated the video internally, but, "We didn't find any contraband," he said. "Without contraband, without knowing they were drugs, actually, you really need that ... to sustain a case. ... The video quality looks like it has been greatly changed-up." (Gusman also noted in court that he believed the video was doctored.) Pressed whether any deputies or staff were charged, Gusman said, "We did investigate, we questioned everybody on the tier, we questioned deputies, and we couldn't find any reason to charge any deputies."
Gusman also was asked why his memory of the videos' content was foggy. "I saw it on a very small screen," he answered. "It wasn't much that I saw."
In his closing statements before that round of questions, Gusman repeatedly suggested Landrieu failed to address and could have prevented ongoing issues at OPP.
"This is not Boise, Idaho," Gusman said. "We have a violent crime problem in New Orleans, and that problem crosses over into our jails. ... Four years ago, we had no choice but to house inmates in the outdated House of Detention. Yesterday, Judge Africk reinforced what we've known all along. ... The city tries to get out of its legal commitment by throwing mud in every direction. ... Within two months of the mayor's inauguration, I sent a letter to the mayor and to the City Council describing funding shortfalls caused by massive repairs needed to repair these buildings. I was ignored repeatedly. The bottom line, the New Orleans Police Department and the sheriff's office consent decrees with the Dept. of Justice will make New Orleans a safer community. I am in favor of implementing both. ... I am as I have been in years willing and ready to talk to the mayor to solve these challenges and put together a plan that is in the best interest of public safety. The mayor chooses to waste time with Washington-style politics and Archie Bunker rhetoric. ... The mayor tries to tell you he's building a new jail, he's wrong. The mayor is building nothing. His contribution to the future of New Orleans' modern jail facilities is that empty space you see between the two buildings."