Criminal Justice

Feds allowed to join lawsuit against OPP; agreement expected

An empty guard tower stands over part of Old Parish Prison, part of the prison-jail complex. Photo by Tom Gogola

A federal judge today allowed the U.S. Department of Justice to join a lawsuit against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman, a necessary step toward a likely consent decree that will govern reforms at the sheriff’s prison complex.

When the government announced its move Monday, Gusman responded with a news release that said he supports the Justice Department’s participation in the lawsuit – a lawsuit that he previously opposed, describing it as baseless.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center in early April.

Granting the Justice Department’s request, also known as giving it “intervenor” status, is a necessary legal tactic before a consent decree, enforced by a federal judge, can be finalized between Gusman and the feds.

It would be designed to  end the allegations by the government and civil-rights activists of unconstitutional conditions, guard-on-prisoner brutality, suicides, rapes, understaffing, and rampant prisoner-on-prisoner violence pervasive at the multi-facility sprawl of jails under his control.

In its court filing Monday, the Justice Department said it has negotiated an agreement with Gusman “that will resolve the concerns of the United States as well as those raised by the parties to this litigation.”

In a statement issued through the Ehrhardt Group public-relations company Monday night, Gusman said, “We look forward to working within the court system and with the parties involved to arrive at a mutually acceptable resolution, just as the New Orleans Police Department did with the Justice Department.”

Gusman wasn’t always so cooperative.

Not long after the lawsuit was filed, Gusman invited reporters to the Conchetta jail facility on Tulane Avenue to meet with Deputy Chief Gerald Ursin, medical director Samuel Gore and Maj. Michael Laughlin from the Special Operations Division.

The trio attempted to undermine the veracity the lawsuit by picking apart claims of brutality and rape made by several defendants.

Some of the law center’s charges against Gusman cite Department of Justice language in a letter of findings sent to Gusman in 2009. That letter accused Gusman of running an out-of-control jail devoid of humane treatment for mentally ill inmates, and overrun with unconstitutional policies and practices.

Other charges in the suit were based on interviews of inmates undertaken by the organization.

Within a month, the Justice Department wrote Gusman again and charged that unconstitutional conditions at the jail that had not been fixed.

It urged him to sign off on a draft consent decree.

At the time of the Justice Department letter, Gusman charged in a press release that the letter trafficked in “sensationalized” claims of abuse at Orleans Parish Prison.

Katie Schwartzmann, Southern Poverty Law Center managing attorney, said that despite Gusman’s attempt to undermine her group’s findings to reporters, none of the affidavits she collected were removed from the lawsuit.

Gusman has repeatedly said his office “responded to each and every allegation” made by the Department of Justice and Southern Poverty Law Center.

When such a charge is levied, said Gore to the reporters, “We jump all over it.”

Gusman now is offering support for the lawsuit in hopes that it will edge a federally enforced consent decree closer to reality.

But it may still be some time in coming.

The city and New Orleans Police Department are still hashing out the details with a federal judge over the final language in the police department’s consent decree, which took over two years to negotiate. It may cost the city up to $55 million over the next five years to implement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has said.

The Lens recently reported on criticisms from jail-watchers that the city wasn’t nearly as involved in consent decree negotiations at Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, possibly owing to the timing of another big-ticket criminal-justice item on the heels of the NOPD consent decree.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni told the Lens that the city was just “substantially” getting involved in the negotiations at the end of August, and that any talk of the cost being an impediment to the city’s lack of participation was “ridiculous.”

Berni did not respond to two phone calls and two emails seeking comment on this week’s development. Berni said Tuesday evening the city does not oppose the Justice Department joining the lawsuit. A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a phone call and two emails seeking comment about Gusman’s flip-flop on the lawsuit.


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About Tom Gogola

Tom Gogola covered criminal justice for The Lens from February 2012 to May 2013. He is a veteran journalist and editor who has written on a range of subjects for many publications, including Newsday, New York, The Nation, and Maxim. Gogola was a 2011 winner of the Hillman Foundation Sidney Award, for his groundbreaking report in New York magazine detailing regulatory waste in the commercial fishing industry.


    Waiting to hear from Truth Teller!!!!!! Do the FEDS finally have Gusman?

  • benelux

    I’ve been checking back all day to see if Truth Teller would be here.

  • Truth Teller

    Truth Teller is here…Yes! Yes! Yes! Well you guys I do believe the time has come, every dog has their day, now this dog is out of bark. As you can see his pride has changed, for the last couple of months everyone was sensationalizing, now he welcome them to join in, bull it’s indictment time, so now you want to play nice it’s to late everyone is fed up and dont like the arrogance. Do you know the saying “DON’T LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT”, I know for sure that bad makeup is wet. Now we can sit back and enjoy the ride, it was along time coming, He said Obama adminstration was gunning for him, in Obama words “CHANGE” and then we will be moving” FORWARD.” He is caught up in fraud, stealing, payroll fraud, misappriation of funds, turning the eye on inmate and deputy violence, sexual misconduct, giving out contracts to his friends and more. Everyone have learned the games he throw the rocks and hide his hand, but that is no longer. Everyone is singing, no one is going to allow him to escape justice twice, we can appreciate the Grand Jury. A paper trail don’t lie. Federal Bureau Of Prision (FBOP ) # 80,000. Remember that’s the money he stole from fema to fund his last campaign. A Note to Gusman i’m so happy they finally caught up with you CROOK, and another note President Obama don’t know you, you are not that important for him are anyone to just be gunning for. FOOL… Flip Flop…

  • Truth Teller

    I would say Jim Letten has had a great career here in New Orleans let’s do the run down, Stan “pampy Barre who cousin works for Marlin Gusman as a Major with no rank experience in the inspection division, where he steal all the details for him and his daughter Inga Barre whom is a Sgt. Because she called 911 when someone passed out in the restroom, well I guess that’s not our job in law enforcement right, if u get rank for it and not even have to take a test, are be put on a list. POLITICS”. Wasted tax payer $. The jeffersons, Oliver Thomas, Sheriff Jeff Hingle, Galeisha Garret “Magistrate Clerk/Sheriff department employee (illegal bonds) Councilman Johnson, Nagin, Fradella, Aaron Broussard, River Birch Landfill, Judge Paul Sens, John Sens and last but not least Shitty Sheriff Marlin Gusman. That’s a great career if we had to vote for you Letten I would vote for you in a heartbeat. It’s a sweet thing called JUSTICE. POLITICS IS OVER… I can now do my shift knowing there is justice coming. You can close this hotel we call a job at OPSO down. No order, No control, I don’t know how we can house and watch over inmates/criminals when our leader Sheriff Marlon Gusman is one who is robbing us of hours, money and raises so he could give his friends hefty salaries as well as line his pockets with the government money. We have more criminal who work for us then we house, but we are law enforcement, it is very embarassing, blow the the cover off everything Letten.

  • benelux

    “Do you know the saying “DON’T LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT”, I know for sure that bad makeup is wet.”


    You are awesome. I can’t wait to watch this all go down.

  • Truth Teller

    Yes Benelux I know what it mean LMAO, I do believe Marlin Gusman do as well. Now we can have better leadership, better pay and we can close this hotel down. This dog lost his bark and bite. Flip Flop…

  • Bro Keith “X” Hudson

    Truth Teller, since I’ve been monitoring corruption in New Orleans, I have yet to see a “Career Politricker” like Gusman go to jail for anything. Why? Let’s look at the ones who done wrong, and never been to jail. Mitch Landrieu/Ronal Serpas/Leon Cannizzaro have violated the laws of the State of Louisiana, and have NEVER been mentioned as doing anything WRONG!!! Judge Paul Sens hired his entire family, and is he in jail. Foti & Connick done unspeakable wrongs, are they in jail? Marc Morial’s entire administration went to jail, did he? When YA’LL(White-folks)had the opportunity to rid this city of corruption, YA’LL chose Ray Nagin over Richard Pennington!!! Remember? Jim Letten is born & raised here in New Orleans, he was an assistant D.A. under Connick, and the U.S. Supreme has railed on that office TWICE this year, and yet no Indictments have been issued by the U.S. Atty. Gen. Office. Why? So, when you speak the truth of certain crooks, don’t forget, their predecessors were doing it before them, and there was no outcry from the “privileged” people. WHY? William Jefferson wasn’t indicted by himself. What happened to the addidtional defendants, labelled A-thru-L? But, ya’ll don’t talk about that. Talk about the people PROTECTING these crooks, because the crooks only steals when the opportunity is presented!

  • Truth Teller

    Brother X your right, it is so many crooks in New Orleans that is why people can’t get ahead and they have so much crime because nothing is being done starting from the top. We as voters need to know the politicians background before we go to the polls and not who they were friends with to get our votes.