Orleans Parish District Attorney-elect Jason Williams said he plans to create a list of police officers with credibility issues and histories of misconduct — such as racial profiling, lying during testimony, or brutality — who he won’t take cases from.
“The purpose of the list is to make sure that every case we bring is credible,” Williams said during a recent interview with The Lens. “And to ensure that no case that we prosecute is is based on racial profiling or racial bias.”
Details regarding how exactly the list will be compiled and utilized were not immediately clear. Williams said that he is “still building out that process,” and needs to meet with both the Independent Police Monitor, along with U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan, who oversees NOPD’s long-running federal consent decree, in order to “make sure that we are in line with the federal monitors.”
Williams did not respond to specific follow up questions regarding what sorts of misconduct would put an officer on the list, how that misconduct would be identified, and if there would be any sort of a review or appeals process for those officers. It is also unclear whether detectives bringing in major cases could end up on the list and have their cases refused, or if the list will include Louisiana State Police in addition to NOPD.
“The no-call list has been done successfully in other municipalities and is being vetted ahead of taking office,” Williams said in a statement on Friday. “It could be one of the areas covered by a Transition Working Group.”
At a press conference on Tuesday Williams announced his transition team would be broken up into seven “transition working groups,” one of which will focus on “enhancing public accountability and police accountability.” Williams also announced that NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson would be part of his transition team.
Similar lists — often referred to as “no-call” or “Brady” lists — are kept by some prosecutors offices throughout the country, and have become a preferred tool for a number of recently elected “progressive prosecutors” who have pledged to increase police accountability. In St. Louis, the city’s chief prosecutor has declined over 100 cases from 29 officers she has deemed unreliable, according to the Marshall Project. The practice is also utilized in DA’s offices in Philadelphia, Houston, and all five boroughs of New York City.
The lists have been used for various purposes. In some jurisdictions, they have kept track of police officers with a history of misconduct or questionable credibility in order to inform defense attorneys of those issues, as is required by United States Supreme Court rulings in Brady v. Maryland and Giglio v. United States. In other offices, they may be used to prevent an officer from testifying in a case, or from taking a case from that officer altogether.
Williams has said in at least one instance that he will keep a list of police officers who he will not accept cases from at all.
The current DA, Leon Cannizzaro, does not keep any similar list of officers, according Ken Daley, a spokesperson for the office. Daley said he was “unaware of any such list developed by any agency locally.”
During his campaign for DA, and for several years prior, Williams was critical of Cannizzaro’s high case acceptance rate, saying that it necessarily meant Cannizzaro was accepting bad cases that stemmed from unconstitutional arrests. Cannizzaro defended his office’s acceptance rate, saying it stemmed from a thorough case-screening process.
Susan Hutson, the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor, told The Lens in an interview on Thursday that keeping a list of officers who the DA deemed unreliable was a “great idea.”
“Super important,” she said. “When you have officers who have truthfulness issues and some other type of issue that could impact their ability to raise their right hand and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then you definitely need the prosecutors to know who those folks are.”
Her office is itself currently working on compiling a public facing database that will show complaints against officers, along with their disciplinary and use-of-force histories.
The “no-call” lists in other cities have been controversial. Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner was sued by a police union over a list being developed by his office, along with one that was kept by his predecessor. The union argued that the lists damaged the reputations of officers and that they were not given due process. Krasner called the suit politically motivated, and it was ultimately thrown out.
Williams has compared the list he plans to develop to Krasner’s, but also said that given his strong relationship with the police department, he hoped to avoid a similar conflict with New Orleans officers’ associations.
“Larry’s situation where he is in a constant battle with a police union there,” he said. “I’m in a bit of a different situation because the police chief and I have a wonderful working relationship. I have a wonderful working relationship with the leadership and with rank-and-file officers. And so I believe that the process of dealing with credibility issues or racial profiling, because of our consent decree, and because of my existing very solid relationships with NOPD from top to bottom, we’re going to be able to have a bit more of a collaborative process in dealing with these situations.”
But two police association representatives in New Orleans — Donovan Livaccari, a lawyer for the New Orleans Fraternal Order of Police, and Mike Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans — said they had some reservations about the DA’s office keeping a no-call list.
“I would hope that we would be able to have conversations so that we’re not unnecessarily taking drastic action that’s ultimately going to be detrimental to the people,” Livaccari said in an interview this week.
In response to a request for comment on the no-call list, NOPD spokesperson Ken Jones said that the department “congratulates District Attorney Elect Jason Williams on becoming the next DA of Orleans Parish and we look forward to a continuing robust partnership under his leadership,“ but that “DA Elect Williams has not taken office yet, and it would be inappropriate to speak on something that has not happened.”
‘If you had to take somebody’s word for it….that might be a problem’
Despite the fact that holding the police accountable was a primary tenet of Williams’ campaign throughout the summer and fall, he did not frequently discuss his plans for a no-call list.
In an ACLU questionnaire,Williams pledged to “hold police accountable by documenting all police officers who have a pattern of dishonesty, perjury, excessive force, and other misconduct, and committing not to use or rely on those officers’ reports or testimony in prosecutions.” But he did not elaborate on the pledge.
At a town hall with the community organization Justice and Beyond in September, however, Williams discussed the possibility in a little more depth.
Responding to a question about how he planned to push back on police who engaged in racial profiling or attempted to bring charges on unwarrented arrests, Williams said that he was “going to do the same thing Larry Krasner is doing in Philadelphia” by keeping a list of officers he wouldn’t accept cases from.
“I’m going to keep a list of officers that engage in any of these things — whether they be small or large — and let the police chief know when it’s going on, so he can take the appropriate action, number one, on the front end,” Williams said. “And also let him know that we’re not going to accept any of those cases from officers who have been shown to use racial profiling and racial bias in their policing.”
Williams said that not taking cases from certain officers could force the police department to take disciplinary action against them.
“When we do that the police chief says ‘Well, I gotta deal with that officer, because they’re not taking his cases.’ And then that is going to help and support good police officers, because now they can shine.”
Mike Glasser, president of PANO, said that while he thought that it was necessary for prosecutors to provide information to defense attorneys regarding an officer’s credibility or past history of misconduct, barring those officers from testifying or taking cases from them should be made on a case-by-case basis, and that the decisions should be consistent.
“In some cases, you got to let the jury decide really, who is credible and who isn’t,” Glasser said, comparing officers who might have engaged in misconduct or lied during testimony to victims of crimes who also have a criminal record. “If we’re going to give credibility to a victim, regardless of what their past history is, how do we ignore testimony of, say, an officer because of his past history?”
When asked if he saw a distinction between the criminal history of a victim of a crime and the past misconduct of an officer who has the power to investigate crimes, use force, and make arrests, he said they were “not exactly the same, but very similar.”
He went on to say that preventing a police officer from testifying because of past misconduct was similar to saying someone can’t be the victim of rape if they have engaged in sex work.
“You know, like, it’s like saying a prostitute can’t be a rape victim,” Glasser said. “Of course they can. You know, just because they engage in that activity frequently and illegally doesn’t mean that they can’t be a victim. Under the right circumstances they most certainly can be, and should be considered that. Now, you know, are they credible? Well, that’s up to a jury to decide. In the event we prosecute, it’s up to them to make that decision.”
Glasser also said that there was more corroborating evidence now than in the past, such video from body worn cameras, cell phones, and security camera footage, which made relying on an officer with past credibility issues less of a risk.
“If you had to take somebody’s word for it, and that’s all you had, that might be a problem,” Glasser said.
‘The buzzword of reform has been renewed’
Livaccari, the lawyer with the Fraternal Order of Police, said that while he was eager to discuss the issue of police accountability with the new DA, he also said that many of the reforms Williams has been discussing with regards to the police have already been accomplished through the NOPD consent decree.
“I understand that, you know, the buzzword of reform has been renewed,” Livaccari said. “But these are not new topics. This is something that we’ve been working hard on, and frankly, spent a lot of money on. So, I would hope that we would be able to have conversations so that we’re not unnecessarily taking drastic action that’s ultimately going to be detrimental to the people.”
“We’ve already dealt with racial profiling and illegal use of stop and frisk. I don’t think that we have a problem with that necessarily in the city of New Orleans.”
Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s office appears to agree with Livaccari. The city recently filed formal notice to the U.S. Department of Justice seeking to end the long-standing NOPD consent decree, arguing that “the NOPD is now, and has been for several years, consistently policing its citizens in a manner that respects and protects their constitutional rights.”
But a recent report by a team of federally appointed consent decree monitors, which reviewed NOPD task forces, found that in three task force districts “one or more Task Force officers engaged in questionable stops, searches, or arrests.”
And an incident involving one NOPD task force suggests that Livacccari and Williams may have different interpretations of what constitutes evidence of problematic policing.
In a controversy first reported by the Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate, body-cam footage from 2019 showed a group of 8th District Task Force Officers discussing an arrest they had just made. But that discussion contradicted testimony the officers had given in court, and District Judge Daryl Derbigny ruled that the video showed “an attempt to fabricate the report of the Detectives involved.”
Following the report, Williams used the incident to slam Cannizzaro for failing to adequately screen cases, and said that the office “ignored red flags in an attempt to salvage an arrest and make good on a prosecution.”
NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson opened a criminal investigation into the officers, saying the public “should be just as disturbed” as he was regarding the incident.
But Liviccari saw things very differently. He said the body camera footages just showed the officers discussing the arrest in order to write an accurate report.
“I really don’t understand how that’s very confusing,” Livaccari said. “That’s all it was.”