City seeks halt to NOPD consent decree

Reform agreement said ‘tainted’  

The city on Thursday asked a federal judge to stop the federal consent decree that aimed to reform the New Orleans Police Department, claiming a “tainted nature” of negotiations that led to its signing.

In a 1,713-page motion to void the agreement, the city argues that misconduct by the U.S. Department of Justice falls into three categories:

  • Failure to disclose costs to fix Orleans Parish Prison until after the NOPD decree was signed.
  • The DOJ’s designation of Sal Perricone as the U.S. Attorney’s “point person” during the initial investigation and negotiations of the consent decree.
  • And claims the consent decree’s secondary employment, or paid detail, provisions might run afoul of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Upon taking office, Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked the DOJ to come to the city in an effort to clean up the beleaguered police department. After months of negotiations between the city and feds, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan signed the decree Jan. 11, despite the city’s objections.

“The city thought that it had a partner in DOJ, which would assist in this endeavor, but it now realizes that it has been misled,” the motion reads in part.

The motion was filed the last day the city could seek relief from Morgan’s decision to sign the consent decree.

Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said the city would have no comment on the issue. “The document speaks for itself,” he said.

The document says that the city has already worked to implement some changes and that Landrieu and Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas will continue to try to change the department.

“The city does not file this motion cavalierly but with a serious commitment to the citizens of the city and the protection of the taxpayer dollars to ensure that citizens are able to get all services to which they are entitled,” the motion reads.

In regard to funding, the DOJ waited until after Morgan signed the NOPD consent decree last month to “hit” the city with the estimated cost to implement the OPP consent decree, which is expected to cost $34.5 million.

“Had the city known in July 2012 (when the NOPD consent decree was executed) that a few months later the DOJ would be seeking at least an additional $12.5 million dollars to fund the OPP consent decree, it would not have signed the NOPD consent decree and committed to the financial obligations associated with it,” the motion reads.

The NOPD consent decree is expected to cost the city about $11 million a year to implement for the next five years during a tight financial time for the city. In November the City Council passed a budget that saw most departments take cuts between 8 and 10 percent.

“Funding the NOPD consent decree as well as the OPP consent decree will be totally unworkable for the city,” the motion reads.

The online posts of former assistant U.S. attorney also play a large factor into the city’s decision to file its motion.

Not only did the former prosecutor, who also applied to be police chief under Landrieu, take part in negotiating the consent decree after he posted disparaging comments on NOLA.com, he biased the decision to implement changes regarding the Police Department’s paid detail system, according to the motion.

The motion states that during the negotiation process, the DOJ “insisted” upon secondary employment provisions, which would regulate paid details, in the consent decree.

Perricone posted several comments on NOLA.com calling the department’s paid detail system the “aorta of corruption,” a term also used in court documents. Additionally, the city argues, the issue of whether the DOJ’s provisions are legal remained unresolved last month when the court signed the consent decree, which it previously said it would not sign without any modifications, according to the motion.

“These actions by the DOJ’s designated ‘point person’ tainted the entire negotiation process,”it said

The motion also notes that Perricone wasn’t alone in his posting on online news stories while working under former U.S. Attorney Jim Letter. Former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann also posted comments on NOLA.com news stories.

“U.S. Attorney Jim Letten personally came to a negotiation session and assured the city’s legal team that Mr. Perricone’s blogs were an aberration and that no one else in the U.S. Attorney’s office was aware of the activity,” the motion reads. “But it appears that the U.S. Attorney was unaware that Mr. Perricone had been blogging for quite some time and that Mr. Letten’s First Assistant U.S. Attorney had been blogging as well.”

The revelation about his prosecutors online activity led to Letten’s resignation Dec. 6.

“While Mr. Perricone’s aliases and his penchant for blogging are now well known, his influence in the negotiation process is only now being fully realized,” the motion reads.