Monday, August 29, 2011

Landlord of "Whites Only" Cop Bar Also Owns "Whites Only" Apartment Buildings

Today, the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division reached a settlement in a case brought by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center against a Midcity landlord who was caught on tape making racially discriminatory comments. The landlord, Betty Bouchon, owns a 16-unit building at 4905 and 4919 Canal Street.

This is not the first time that 4905 Canal Street has been in the news. That address is also the site of the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, an NOPD bar that was a site of a violent brawl during Mardi Gras in 2008. According to witnesses, a group of Black transit workers entered the bar on February 5, 2008, and were subjected to racial slurs, then beaten by NOPD officers. According to the NOPD's own investigation, Officers also illegally entered the car of one of the Black workers, planted a gun, and had him arrested.

The bar was apparently popular with the family of politically powerful individuals. Among those at the bar that night were Laura Cannizzaro, an Assistant Orleans Parish District Attorney, and daughter of the current DA Leon Cannizzaro.

Officer Travis Ward was also there that night. Ward was the live-in boyfriend of Mandy Serpas, daughter of NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas. In eight years in the NOPD, Ward was investigated six other times for improper or unethical behavior, including a drunk driving incident where he crashed an NOPD vehicle.

According to a cop attorney quoted in the Times-Picayune, "NOPD botched its own internal investigation, creating a report filled with inaccuracies and outright lies that was damaging to its own personnel."

One of the officers who was fired from the NOPD for his involvement in the fight, David Lapene, was later hired by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. Lapene later resigned after local media reported his involvement in the brawl.

The news that the apartment complex also had a whites only policy gives further evidence that the incident at the bar was not an isolated incident, or a case of "bad apples." According to the report from Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (who also recorded the conversations with the landlord):
Ms. Bouchon refused to allow any black mystery shoppers the opportunity to rent units, and made numerous racially discriminatory comments. At one point, Ms. Bouchon informed a white mystery shopper that she saw a black girl who she thought was interested in seeing the apartment so she left the premises so that she would not have to show the unit to the black girl. She later informed a white mystery shopper that the rental unit is located in "a safe neighborhood, one of the only safe ones left because we don't have any blacks here" (listen). In the same meeting she advised the mystery shopper that a lot of blacks were calling her about the apartment so she simply did not answer the phone (listen).
According to a press release from the Department of Justice:
The Justice Department announced today that New Orleans landlords Betty Bouchon, the Bouchon Limited Family Partnership and Sapphire Corp., have agreed to pay $70,000 in damages and civil penalties to settle a lawsuit alleging they unlawfully denied housing to African-American prospective renters at a 16-unit apartment building located in New Orleans. The settlement must still be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana...

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay $50,000 to GNOFHAC and a total of $20,000 in civil penalties to the United States. The settlement also requires the defendants to adopt non-discriminatory policies and procedures, keep detailed records of inquiries from prospective tenants and of rental transactions, and submit periodic reports over the four year term of the settlement. GNOFHAC filed a separate lawsuit, which is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
We hope the Justice Department continues to look at the incident at the Beach Corner Bar and Grill, and all of those involved. Once again, it appears that corruption goes all the way to the top of our local system.

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