Criminal Justice

PANO: Just Desserts

Perhaps you read this lovely article in The Times-Picayune. Over the weekend, the union that represents the NOPD, the Police Association of New Orleans, held a fund-raiser to benefit the legal-defense funds of officers under investigation for violent crimes, conspiracies and cover-ups that occurred in the aftermath of the federal levee failure.

The event was touted on the Facebook social networking site as supporting two officers that federal investigators are looking at to determine their role in the burning of a fatally shot man’s body four days after Katrina.

But another Facebook page and a stand-alone Web site asked people to “support our Katrina heroes,” seemingly backing a wider group of officers. There are currently at least seven FBI investigations into potential civil rights violations by New Orleans police officers. Most of the probes stem from the time period immediately after Katrina.

The party, called “Support New Orleans’ Finest,” raised dollars that would help represent not only officers targeted by the federal investigations but also any officer accused of wrongdoing, [PANO President Captain Michael Glasser] said.

Glasser pointed at the men, women and children chatting, eating and dancing and said: “We couldn’t do this unless the public supported us.”

Some of those attending wore T-shirts that read, “I protect. I defend. I sacrifice. I am New Orleans’ finest.”

On the Facebook pages spreading the word about the fundraiser, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Capt. Jeff Winn and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann — all of whom attorneys have confirmed are targets of the two most high-profile federal probes — list their names as page administrators.

I don’t find it surprising that the union representing the New Orleans Police Department is working to provide legal support for its beleaguered officers. As sordid as the accusations against the NOPD are, the officers deserve their day in court and the union wouldn’t be doing its job if it didn’t lend assistance.

But since this fund-raiser appears to have been billed as one designed to support Scheuermann and Winn in particular, I am left wondering.

Lt. Dwayne Scheurermann is the second-in-command at PANO under Glasser, listed as the first vice president on PANO’s executive committee.

Winn and Scheuermann, of course, are under investigation for their roles in the burning of Henry Glover’s body in Algiers. Scheuermann is the assistant deputy of the NOPD’s Special Operations Division.

Winn was that unit’s commander and has been in the news a lot as he’s been shifted from unit to unit since Katrina. He is widely credited for leading the NOPD’s rescue operations during Katrina and has a loyal following within the force.

From PANO’s website:

PANO was founded out of frustration due to poor working conditions, substandard pay, low morale, and lack of attention to the backbone of the New Orleans Police Department, the patrolmen and sergeants. The founder and new president, Irvin L. Magri, Jr. argued for items such as better base salary, additional state supplemental pay, better equipment for street personnel including first aid kits for police cars, shotguns on the dash with high-powered rifles available should the situation dictate, shift differential pay, creating the rank of Training Officer and/or Senior Patrolman (now incorporated as Police Officers I, II, III, IV), changes in the State Civil Service Law to allow Police and Fire representation on the New Orleans Civil Service commission, better facilities at the District Stations (many of the District Stations at the time were condemned), increased uniform allowance, the ending of mandatory compensatory overtime, increasing the pay detail rated, better and more effective ammunition, etc.

Advocating for fair wages, benefits, and safe working conditions are precisely what a strong labor union should do. But the public rarely sees evidence of that mission from Glasser’s PANO. Instead, resources seem to be primarily geared toward the whitewashing of the problems endemic to the NOPD: public appeals on behalf of officers accused of the most heinous of conspiracies.

Where does an officer turn if he or she wants to blow the whistle on the corrupt cops that give the entire department a bad name? What does the union do for them?

Is the union demanding the cleanup of the force so that honorable NOPD officers are rewarded? Is the union concerned that the massive public distrust of the NOPD has made the job less safe for its members?

PANO, I’m sure, maintains that the problems at the NOPD are the result of a few “bad apples” and do not reflect the honor of the vast majority of NOPD personnel.

The problem is that PANO protects the bad apples. It protects them to the detriment of the bulk of their members, whose integrity is impugned and whose jobs have been made more difficult because of the overwhelming nature of the multitude of investigations now faced by the NOPD.

Glasser said about the multitude of federal investigations targeting the NOPD and about Lt. Michael Lohman. He’s the officer who is cooperating in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Danziger Bridge killings and pleaded guilty to his role in it.

“There’s no doubt that some things were done that were improper, but to the level and extent that they were done, it had nothing to do with any culture that could exist,” Glasser said.

“When people cooperate in exchange for things, very often they embellish things in order to enhance their own bargaining position,” Glasser said.

In the same conversation, Glasser denies allegations that there is a culture of corruption in the force while simultaneously defending alleged co-conspirators from the testimony of an officer who finally came forward to confess.

I am reading that spin and getting dizzy myself.

Does Glasser really speak for the NOPD rank-and-file?

Do regular police support the leadership at PANO?

Do they support their dues being used seemingly exclusively for the protection of the same police that have destroyed the reputation of everyone else associated with the department?

Surely since the vast majority of NOPD officers are providing honorable service to this community, they too want to see the “bad apples” punished. Surely PANO can provide legal assistance to officers accused of crimes without constantly publicly undermining their overall mission on behalf of the men and women of the department.

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  • jeffrey

    One thing. PANO hasn’t actually made a “bad apples” argument anywhere that I’ve seen. But I don’t think they’re really obligated to do that. Their job is to assist and protect their membership. Part of that job is pushing for better management conditions of the sort that would keep the sort of procedural breakdowns that lead to these incidents from happening. But I don’t know if they want to or should want to become a means by which that management gets to shift the blame for systemic problems onto the line workforce.

  • Eli Ackerman

    When Glasser says:

    “There’s no doubt that some things were done that were improper, but to the level and extent that they were done, it had nothing to do with any culture that could exist…”

    Glasser is making the ‘bad apples’ argument. He’s saying that the corruption we’re seeing is the result of isolated individual failings alone and not indicative of larger problems on the force. I didn’t mean to suggest he had used the phrase explicitly.

    I think that Glasser especially, through his public statements over the last few years, has made PANO into too much of an organization for the protection of corrupt cops. I’m not sure if that’s what he intends or not but I don’t think I have ever seen him, as the head of the police union, criticize NOPD leadership for the poor management conditions. Instead, he criticizes the media or he criticizes cooperative witnesses. Or he wraps his arms around the accused – like he did this weekend – as if they’re family when they should be treated as clients and when he has such an important responsibility to everyone else on the force.

  • Tracie

    The fact is — and we have stated this for years — the dysfunction at NOPD is not individual, but institutionalized. We need the assistance and, yes, supervision of the US Department of Justice. See,