Federal judge picks feds’ choice for NOPD monitor

A federal judge sided with the U.S. Department of Justice over Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration in picking a monitor to oversee a raft of reforms to the New Orleans Police Department.

U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan on Friday chose Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, citing the firm’s legal and police monitoring experience. The head of the team, Jonathan Aronie, has served as deputy monitor overseeing reforms to the police force in Washington, D.C., under a reform agreement similar to the one the city of New Orleans and the feds inked almost a year ago.

Morgan ordered the city to begin negotiating an agreement with the firm, which came in with a $7.9 million bid over five years to track the court-mandated NOPD transformation.

The city’s favored firm, Hillard Heintze, came in with a lower, $7.2 million bid, but weathered stiff public criticism after it was named one of the two finalists from a dozen original bidders.

Critics, and Morgan in her ruling, noted that the head of the Hillard Heintze team, former Chicago Police Chief Terry Hillard, had never served as a police monitor. Also, critics questioned how Hillard as police chief had handled lingering cases of alleged torture in the late 1990s and beyond in Chicago.

In her ruling, Morgan noted the legal experience of a team led by Washington-based Sheppard Mullin, saying the job of the monitor is to investigate, assess and report to the judge, not to formulate police policies.

Along with Aronie, who will serve as the monitor, the Sheppard Mullin team includes former Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., Police Chief Dennis Nowicky, ex-Pittsburgh Police Chief Robert McNeilly, and former Arlington, Texas, Police Chief Theron Bowman, among others.

The selection was made after five public hearings to vet the candidates.

Meanwhile, Landrieu’s administration continues to wait for an appeals court ruling on its bid to reverse Morgan’s approval of the consent decree, a 492-point blueprint for changes to virtually every aspect of the NOPD, from police searches to off-duty paid details for officers to how the department tracks crime data and complaints.

Landrieu has said the city can’t risk the $55 million price tag for the agreement over about five years, with the specter of another major tab for reforms to the Orleans Parish jail.

The mayor has repeatedly said that he remains committed to reforming the force. Landrieu’s office had no response late Friday to the monitor selection, other than to acknowledge it had happened.