Monday, March 29, 2010


When she was called for jury duty, Veda Manual’s reaction was no different from most citizens. “I knew it would be long,” she said. “No one wants to be there.” But because it was her civic duty, last week she sat at Criminal District Court and endured the process. Unfortunately, what she experienced will come as no surprise to most New Orleanians.

“Three times we could not seat a jury,” She says. The reason for this difficulty could not have been envisioned by the framers of our constitution. A majority of our residents – and an overwhelming majority of African-Americans – know this truth and live its fear. It was a case of drug possession with intent to distribute, where there was no physical evidence, just the testimony of the police officer(s). “In light of all of what we know about the police, I said I couldn’t convict anyone on their testimony alone. I was Juror No. 1. Sixteen of the other people in my group agreed. How can we trust the police?”

Ordinary citizens could not in good conscience affirm they could believe the truth of any testimony sworn under oath by officers of the New Orleans Police Department.

Harsh? Well, let’s consider some of the news headlines/reports and proven facts, just since Katrina:

NOPD officers' account of beating disputed
Associated Press
Oct. 10, 2005, 10:12PM
A retired elementary school teacher was arrested and beaten by police officers who claim he was publicly intoxicated. The incident was caught on tape by Associated Press Television News, and one producer was allegedly grabbed and shoved by the arresting officers.

NOPD baits, then arrests, the homeless
POSTED: 01:00 AM Friday, July 11, 2008
BY: Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer, New Orleans City Business
Police officers baited passersby by placing several small items worth less than 10 dollars in plain view on the dash of unlocked cars in an effort to entrap and arrest homeless people living under the Claiborne overpass.

Cop booked in rape of 13-year-old was investigated twice for raping young girls, but remained on the job
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
October 23, 2008, 7:59AM
A veteran NOPD officer, twice accused of rape by young girls in 2001 and 2003, was booked after a third girl accused him of rape. Though he was twice investigated in the past, both investigations ended with prosecutors citing “failure of the victims or the victim’s parents to cooperate.” Neither of the investigations were noted on his civil service record.

Cops involved in New Year's killing of Adolph Grimes III face other probes
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
February 05, 2009, 10:27PM
On the same evening nine officers shot and killed 22 year-old Adolph Grimes III another incident occurred where the same nine-man unit subdued Cleavon Crutchfield with a taser gun and drew guns on his family. Several of the officers involved in the separate incidents are under investigation for other incidents.

Man 'impersonating' cop was an actual NOPD officer
By Ramon Antonio Vargas, The Times-Picayune
March 20, 2009, 11:35AM
Darrius Clipps, who allegedly forced his way into several area homes and victimized several Hispanic men and women, was not impersonating a police officer as early reports claimed but was in fact a member of the police force.

NOPD cops lied about bar brawl, inquiry says
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
July 10, 2009, 9:23AM
An NOPD internal report concludes that police officers involved in a 2008 bar fight between off-duty officers and RTA workers lied to investigators, and at least one officer coerced false testimony from a witness.

NOPD downgrading of rape reports raises questions
By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
July 11, 2009, 9:02PM
Though the police boast a decline in the number of rapes, in examining complaints, there is a trend where in more than half of the complaints of rape or other sexual assault the matter is classified as a noncriminal complaint. The police attribute the disparity in complaints that are pursued and complaints that are “noncriminal” to the difficulty in coaxing rape victims to come forward. Some experts claim that many of the complaints that are reclassified as non criminal should be categorized as sex crimes.

State audit blasts NOPD evidence room, notes police leaders may have broken state lawBy Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
July 13, 2009, 10:09PM
The NOPD property and evidence room lost track of more than $200,000, and officials failed to notify the Orleans Parish District Attorney and state auditors in writing of the missing money.

NOPD cop who stole watch had been cited for two other crimes during time on forceBy Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
September 11, 2009, 7:00AM
An NOPD officer who was arrested amid allegations that he stole an expensive watch from a citizen while on a service call was twice cited for other crimes during his time on the force. In 2008 he was issued municipal summons in September for domestic battery, and in March for public intoxication, public intimidation, and resisting an officer.

Police shootings after Katrina: Was a gun inside a bag a threat to 5 officers?
By The Times-Picayune
December 13, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
A Matthew McDonald was shot and killed by 5 police officers days after Hurricane Katrina after they claimed he reached into a white plastic bag in an attempt to remove a handgun. No crime scene photos were taken, no autopsy was performed, and officers were unable to locate witnesses to the incident. Family members say that when they contacted the police, NOPD informed them that McDonald was killed by a civilian.

Police shootings after Katrina: How does a man waving down a police car die from a shotgun blast to his back?
By The Times-Picayune
December 14, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
Though a police investigation concluded that the shooting 45-year old Danny Brumfield Sr. by police officers outside of the Convention Center following Hurricane Katrina was justified by the threat Mr. Brumfield posed to the officers, further investigation suggests that the police investigation was half-hearted at best. Mr. Brumfield was shot in the back, not the shoulder as the police investigation claims. The police collected no evidence at the scene, and only one witness statement was taken, from Mr. Brumfield’s sister, despite the many onlookers who witnessed the incident.

Police shootings after Katrina: SWAT team sees armed man, shoots him three times, but where's the gun?
By The Times-Picayune
December 15, 2009, 10:00PM
This story was reported by A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, and Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi of The Times-Picayune
In an incident where no civilian witness interviews were taken, 28 year-old Keenon McCann was shot several times by police officers who claimed he was brandishing a gun. No gun was recovered.

Riley, Compass, New Orleans police officials summoned to federal grand jury
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
January 15, 2010, 4:03PM
Current Police Superintendent Riley and his predecessor Compass, with other police officials, were questioned by federal prosecutors concerning two separate inquiries into police conduct following Hurricane Katrina. The prosecutors are probing the Danziger bridge shooting and the mysterious death of a man found burned to death in a car in Algiers.

Police supervisor encouraged cover-up, knew officer planted gun while still on Danziger Bridge
By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
February 24, 2010, 2:16PM
Lt. Michael Lohman has been charged with one count of conspiring to obstruct justice after he and several other officers colluded to falsify reports and plant evidence at the scene of a police shooting.

Mardi Gras Indians concerned about police antagonismBy Katy Reckdahl, The Times-Picayune
March 08, 2010, 4:18AM
With Super Sunday around the corner, Mardi Gras Indians from several tribes have expressed concern over police antagonism towards spectators and participants. Indians have reported several incidents in which police harassed maskers and participants who claim they were parading peacefully.

Algiers police shooting report altered, sources say
By Times-Picayune Staff
March 14, 2010, 10:55AM
Inconsistencies lie between the official police report and the police report originally written by Officer David Warren whose name appears on the official document’s cover page. There are other inconsistencies in the report, which concerned the death of Henry Glover who died while in police custody and whose burned corpse was discovered in a car on the Algiers levee after Hurricane Katrina.

Suit claims police harass journalists and bystandersPosted: Monday, 15 March 2010 1:20PM
Associated Press Reporting
A suit brought against NOPD alleges that police officers have engaged in a pattern of arresting and/or harassing journalists and bystanders who photograph them in public. The plaintiffs cite 11 incidents since 2005 where people were harassed or arrested for videotaping, photographing, or observing police officers.

Danziger Bridge case suggests culture of corruption at NOPD
By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune
March 21, 2010, 9:45AM
Officers involved in a shooting on the Danziger Bridge following Hurricane Katrina are accused of conspiracy to cover up police misconduct. The coverup included officers of varying rank, who went so far as to meet in a gutted police station to ensure that their fictitious version of the story was uniform among the conspirators.


There is a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers of the New Orleans Police Department that deprives persons of rights, privileges, and immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States. We know this. It’s nothing new; the hurricane didn’t stop anything.

In Black Rage in New Orleans, Leonard N. Moore traces the disturbing history of police corruption in New Orleans since World War II, up to Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, crime, drug abuse, and murder have become an unfortunate fact of life. Unfortunately, an underpaid, inadequately staffed, and poorly trained police force frequently resorted to brutality against African Americans. “Endemic corruption among police officers increased as the city’s crime rate soared, generating anger and frustration among New Orleans’s black community,” According to Moore, The NOPD’s abuses read like a bad Hollywood script — police homicides, sexual violence against women, racial profiling, and complicity in drug deals, prostitution rings, burglaries, protection schemes, and gun smuggling. “Documenting the police harassment of civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s, Moore examines the aggressive policing techniques of the 1970s, and the attempts of Ernest “Dutch” Morial—the first black mayor of New Orleans—to reform the force in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even when the department hired more African American officers as part of that reform effort, Moore reveals, the corruption and brutality continued unabated in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

Dramatic changes in the NOPD cannot come by simply hiring a new police chief. We’ve done this before, yet the City of New Orleans has been beleaguered by the unrealized promise of sustainable reform. We recognize a new mayoral administration is coming, and no doubt Mitch Landrieu has his own ideas concerning needed innovations for NOPD. But one person can't fix this problem, and any assumption that the hiring of a new police chief is the solution simply placates the least vulnerable in our community, while adding salt to the wounds of those of us most likely to be victimized by brutal and/or corrupt police. We need a solution that addresses the systemic nature of the problem.


With an increasing awareness of police misconduct, Congress included a provision in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that authorizes the Department of Justice to file civil lawsuits against law enforcement agencies that engage in a pattern of violating people's rights and obtain a court order to monitor and reform them.

To establish a claim, Section 14141 requires the Justice Department to demonstrate that a municipality, police department, or other Section 14141 defendant has engaged in "a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." The Supreme Court has suggested that the term "pattern or practice" has a "usual meaning"—a meaning denoting something more "than the mere occurrence of isolated or 'accidental' or sporadic [unlawful] acts." A "pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers" depriving persons of constitutional or statutory rights, denotes a course of conduct that is "standard operating procedure" within a police department—in the Court's words, a course of conduct that is "the regular rather than the unusual practice."

How is the process initiated? Usually with a “Dear City Attorney” letter. City officials and local law enforcement departments are never surprised when the federal government finally seeks redress but, generally, there is a formal letter that precedes the filing of litigation. Sometime thereafter, civil litigation, much like the sample Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief linked here is initiated.

A Call to Action – Citizens Acting Now to Create the Consent Decree

If a federal action is filed and resolved, it will be through an agreed Consent Decree, which will allow our federal courts to retain jurisdiction and enforcement powers over the matter. While we believe the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights can, indeed, come to the rescue of New Orleans residents who have suffered for far too long the ravishes of a rogue police force, it is our responsibility to direct what is to become “Sustainable Reform.”

We can do this, but the work will require organizing and cooperation from the entire community in developing and agreeing upon the contents of a Consent Decree between the Department of Justice and the City of New Orleans. This document will be the compact that binds reform. We have drafted a model document – New Orleans Community Members’ Terms and Conditions for Consent Decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of New Orleans/New Orleans Police Department – which can begin this conversation, and includes provisions detailing Management and Supervision of Police, Community Relations, Training, an Independent Police Monitor who reports directly to the U.S. District Court, and Complaint Protocol and Procedures.

The bottom line is if we as a community want the culture of our police department changed, and if we want sustainable reform, we must sit at the table and negotiate those terms and conditions that will make NOPD accountable to us!


Both the Clinton and Bush administrations used the civil lawsuit provisions of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, successfully, several times: in Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Detroit, the State of New Jersey, Steubenville, Ohio, and Prince Georges County, Maryland, among other jurisdictions.

In Pittsburgh—the first city to enter into a consent decree with the Justice Department— most provisions of the decree were lifted after the Bureau of Police was judged to be in substantial compliance. The key factors that enabled the city quickly to comply with the terms of the decree: the leadership of a talented police chief, guidance from the federal monitor, and an engaged community, which had an active, role in the process and access to police data that was given to the police monitor under the decree.

Veda Manual reported that in the end, a jury was seated in the possession with intent case. We understand not all – not even most - New Orleans Police Department officers are brutal or corrupt. But we can’t discern the good from the bad, and we are tired of suffering the consequences of trying. What we know for certain is that in the new rush to incorrectly proclaim crime as the #1 problem for the City of New Orleans, city officials have turned a blind-eye to civil liberties. Police cannot become the law unto themselves, and it is time for the U.S. government, through the Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights, to step-in and step-up, be the good-guys, intervene, and help provide relief for New Orleans residents tired of and broken by our elected and appointed city officials who refuse to take responsibility for our chronically dysfunctional police department.

We deserve this. Justice has been delayed and denied for far too long.

LJI Organizer Saia M. Smith contributed to this article.

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