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Re-defining "Katrina'
New Orleans is averaging four murders and one suicide a week so far this year, according to figures provided by Orleans Parish chief coroner's investigator John Gagliano. The city saw 24 homicides by Feb. 13, compared to 25 during the same period last year. New Orleans finished 2007 as the nation's per-capita murder capital, with 221 homicides among a population of roughly 300,000, according to the coroner's office. Meanwhile, there were six suicides during the first six weeks of 2008. That means people here are taking their own lives at a rate that's twice as high as last year; New Orleans saw just 26 suicides in 2007. "Things are still very tough here, but there are signs of improvement," says Dr. Janet Johnson, a clinical psychiatrist at Tulane University Medical Center. "People are still struggling to find adequate housing and employment. And many residents still have not returned since the storm." Johnson also cites a recent study by Harvard Medical School, which showed that local rates of serious mental illness, anxiety disorders and suicidal thinking are twice as high two years after the storm. "When people here talk about "Katrina' they are not just talking about the storm anymore," she says. "It's the insurance crisis, the mental health crisis, the crime, the homeless under the bridge — the whole ball of wax." NOPD's Crisis Unit, whose motto is "To Protect and Serve the Mentally Ill," last week announced it is seeking volunteers to help cops deal with the ongoing mental health crisis (www.crisis6512.com). — Johnson

 

'Danziger 7' ADA Change
The lead prosecutor in New Orleans' most controversial murder case since Hurricane Katrina has resigned from the New Orleans District Attorney's Office. Dustin Davis, who headed the office's public corruption unit, oversaw the controversial first-degree murder indictments of seven NOPD officers known as the "Danziger 7," has taken a job with a U.S. Attorney's Office in south Florida. During more than two years in New Orleans, Davis prosecuted NOPD cops and criminal sheriff's deputies for official misconduct. "His last day here was Jan. 25," says Dalton Savwoir Jr., a spokesperson for interim DA Keva Landrum-Johnson. Veteran prosecutor Robert "Bob" White will take over prosecution of the Danziger case, which has stalled, awaiting a ruling on a motion from the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal. Seven cops are free on bond awaiting trial for the Katrina-related shooting deaths of two men and the wounding of four other people near the Danziger Bridge during the desperate days following Hurricane Katrina. "Bob will have more time to prepare for the case" while the appellate court ponders a prosecution motion to recuse trial Judge Raymond Bigelow, Savwoir said. A lawyer for eight years, White has been a prosecutor with the DA's office since March 2002. He was one of a handful of prosecutors who former DA Eddie Jordan Jr. assigned to salvage criminal cases after Hurricane Katrina flooded the evidence room in 2005. As a supervisor, he also was tasked with reducing high caseloads in several sections of Criminal District Court after the storm. "He's been primarily a troubleshooter on difficult cases in this office," Savwoir says. He adds that Landrum-Johnson was "intimately involved" in the Danziger case before succeeding Jordan as DA on Oct. 31. — Johnson

 

Trouble in the House?
Since the Louisiana Senate was blamed for killing significant ethics reform last year, many assumed that the Upper Chamber would cause trouble for Gov. Bobby Jindal during his special session on ethics, which began last week. However, much of Jindal's package — from financial disclosure to banning lawmakers from state contracts — is being authored by Senate President Joel Chaisson, a Destrehan Democrat. Moreover, Jindal's Senate bills have, on average, 28 co-authors among the 39-member body. "But that doesn't mean they won't want to amend every single one of those bills," says one longtime lobbyist. Meanwhile, in the House, GOP Speaker Jim Tucker of Terrytown is the primary sponsor of Jindal's 12-measure core package. Many of those bills are carbon copies of measures sponsored by Chaisson, except Tucker's versions average only 17 co-authors among the House's 105 members. While House members responded positively to Jindal's opening speech last week, some read newspapers and took phone calls during the oration. Others watched the speechifying play out on the closed-circuit televisions atop their desks. "There was a whole lot of stuff in that speech. It's going to be difficult to get it all done," says Juan LaFonta, a New Orleans Democrat who serves as chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. — Alford

 

Bobby by the Numbers
Gov. Bobby Jindal opened his special session of the Legislature last week by telling lawmakers that implementing comprehensive ethics reform is the "single most important endeavor for the future of Louisiana." The three-week session, which ends March 1, is Jindal's first big test as governor. Lawmakers will debate dozens of bills ranging in focus from financial disclosure to accessing public documents. Jindal, a Republican, reminded legislators that voters gave him and his plan a mandate in last year's gubernatorial election — and that the present session is the opportune time to deliver. "There is no room for failure," Jindal said in his speech. "We must be bold. Instead of incremental change, we must make sweeping change. Instead of leaving any doubt about our commitment, we must wipe the slate clean. Corruption will no longer find a home here." Here's a closer look at some details of Jindal's oration: length, 2,348 words; running time, 16 minutes; number of times interrupted by applause, 8; number of times Jindal used the word "we," 68; number of times Jindal urged lawmakers to "be bold," 11. — Alford

 

State GOP fined $3,000
Roger Villere, chair of the Louisiana Republican Party, has been hopping mad over the Louisiana Ethics Board's recent decision to charge new Gov. Bobby Jindal with campaign finance violations after the governor failed to report a $118,000 campaign mail-out by the state GOP last summer. Villere didn't seem any happier when a reporter told him that the ethics panel has also fined the state GOP $3,000 for filing a separate campaign finance disclosure report for last fall's election — 93 days late. "I know nothing about that," Villere said, adding he was hearing about the charge for the first time. "As far as I know, all of our reports are up to date. I will call (the ethics board) and find out what's going on." In the other, well-publicized case against Jindal, Villere indicated that he and other GOP stalwarts wanted to fight the ethics board charge against their new governor — and silence critics as well. "But the governor just wants to move on," Villere says. Villere and other Jindal defenders may yet get their day in court. The ethics board has ordered a public hearing on the Jindal case, scheduled for July 10. — Johnson

 

Power Rankings
Vault Melancon Gambit Weekly noted last month in "Charlie Boy at the Plate" (Jan. 29) that U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat, was positioned to gain politically from the recent upheaval in Louisiana's congressional delegation. In the midst of others' turmoil, the two-term congressman has become a superstar in the state Democratic Party practically overnight. He has led the House leadership on tours of his district, holds a spot on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired Louisiana's fabled D.C. Mardi Gras this year and is a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention. All that caught the attention of others as well. Rankings by Congress.org, a nonpartisan power-ranking system, placed Melancon at No. 144 among the House's 439 members in its annual power rankings. More impressive is the fact that Melancon was at No. 418 just two years ago. While certainly a boost to the ego, it's still unknown whether the rankings will pay out for him in the real world — as in convincing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that he's the man to take on incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, in 2010. Former Congressman Chris John, a Democrat from Crowley, has also expressed interest in the race. — Alford

 

Accused Spy Weathers Crime Uptown
You have to wonder — because we'll probably never know — just how an accused Chinese spy adapted to life in crime-ridden Uptown. After two years of counterintelligence operations, the FBI last week raided the home of businessman Tai Shen Kuo, 58, who resided at 1739 Bordeaux St., about two blocks from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. Kuo allegedly began spying for the Chinese government two years ago. During that period, New Orleans Police reported 104 felonies — including five robberies, four assaults, a passel of residential burglaries and numerous auto break-ins — within four blocks of his residence, which was purchased in 2001 for $400,000. In fact, there was an armed robbery and carjacking reported at 10:18 a.m., Jan. 12, in the 1700 block of Upperline Street, just one block from Kuo's house. Another robbery was reported in the same block as the accused spy's residence at 9:58 p.m. on Sept. 21. On Aug. 27, cops responded to an armed robbery with a gun in the 1400 block of Bordeaux Street (three blocks away), and police responded to a report of an attempted armed robbery one block from Kuo's residence on Aug. 5, 2006. If the FBI truly had Kuo under surveillance around the clock for the last two years as agents insist, local observers say, then it's not a stretch to suggest that some vintage Uptown street crime also may have turned up on the bureau's video surveillance. Any NOPD reports of common crimes which even hint at the identities and whereabouts of FBI foreign counterintelligence (FCI) agents during their surveillance would likely be destroyed in the interest of "national security." — Johnson

 

First Bridge Suicide, Post-K
Criminal defense investigator Charlotte Glass, 66, who fell from the Crescent City Connection on Ash Wednesday morning, is apparently the first suicide on a local Mississippi River bridge since Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005, a state official says. Glass apparently jumped to her death immediately after stopping her car atop the bridge, says Randall Paisant, executive director of the Crescent City Connection. A highly regarded mitigation expert in death penalty cases, Glass was the wife of local criminal defense attorney Robert Glass. Complete statistics on suicides and attempted suicides from the Crescent City Connection and the nearby Huey P. Long Bridge were unavailable last week. Paisant says there have been fewer suicides since the second Orleans Parish bridge over the Mississippi River opened in 1988, though he's not sure why. Years ago, officials considered installing preventive barriers on the bridge, but the idea was dismissed because of the relative scarcity of such tragedies. Paisant says bridge police do not receive specialized training in suicide prevention but can summon a police chaplain to help discourage individuals from jumping to their deaths. "If they hesitate, chances are we can get them down," he says. Meanwhile, Jewish Family Service, a United Way agency, offers free suicide prevention training to civilians and law enforcement through its "Teen Life Counts" program (831-8475). — Johnson

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