After hours of testimony in federal court over the Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) consent decree, Sheriff Marlin Gusman held a brief press conference outside OPP's intake center. 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 shocking video of inmates clowning with guns and drugs behind bars at the now-closed House of Detention (HOD).
"That video from 2009 revealed in graphic detail the devastating affect of crumbling, outdated jail buildings that are lacking modern security measures," Gusman said.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 HOD, which he made of a point of defining as the city's property: "I was phasing it out before Katrina, and I closed it over a year ago."
Gusman said his office investigated the video internally but "we didn't find any contraband," he said, adding, "The video quality looks like it has been greatly changed up." (Gusman also hinted in court 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."
The sheriff repeatedly suggested that Landrieu failed to address ongoing issues at OPP and could have prevented them. "I am, as I have been for 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." — Alex Woodward