Mardi Gras confrontation between state troopers, youths is focus of legislative hearing

Two troopers accused of violating rules

A hearing Tuesday to discuss a highly publicized confrontation between black youths and State Police troopers during Carnival revealed little new information but drove home the point that the politicians and the public are closely watching the investigation.

State Sen. J.P. Morrell convened a special meeting of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee on Southern University in New Orleans’ campus to hear testimony about an incident last month where State Police troopers were captured on video slamming two young black men to the ground in the French Quarter after the Krewe of Bacchus parade.

The incident has been the source of much debate about whether State Police used excessive force and racially profiled the two teenagers.

Col. Michael Edmonson, the superintendent of the State Police, told the committee that his office’s investigation into the incident is still ongoing, and thus he couldn’t comment much on the specifics of the case. However, he promised that internal affairs officers will be thorough, and that any wrongdoing will not be tolerated.

He down played the racial aspect of the incident, saying his office is investigating whether there was conduct that violated the agency’s standards for everyone. In addition, he said he will present the investigation’s findings to lawmakers and the public as soon as they are ready in roughly 60 days.

“You’ll understand what happened and why it happened,” said Edmonson, who asked the public to come forward with any information on the encounter. “We need to find out exactly what happened.”

In the video, which first aired on a WVUE-TV newscast, Sidney Newman and Ferdinand Hunt are seen standing and sitting against a wall in the 700 block of Conti Street. Several white men in regular clothes, later identified as plainclothes troopers, walk up to the boys, grab them and sling them to the ground.

Authorities appear to detain the teenagers until Hunt’s mother, a New Orleans police officer, pushes into the group and begins questioning the troopers. The boys are released, and the troopers later walk away. The video does not contain any sound.

Edmonson noted that roughly 150 troopers were in New Orleans during Carnival to assist New Orleans police, and no complaints have been filed against them. He said that during his five-year tenure there have never been any complaints against troopers when they’ve assisted in the city.

But Hazel Newman, the mother of Sidney, said that doesn’t change the fact that what the video shows is unacceptable behavior. She said she’s always taught her son to respect police officers. Her brother was a police officer who was killed in the line of duty, she said, and she has several other relatives in law enforcement.

But she said the officers clearly crossed the line when they used “excessive” force to subdue a young man who was breaking no laws. Newman added that if Hunt’s mother hadn’t been there to help, she shudders to think how badly the encounter could have ended.

“Only God knows what would have happened,” Newman said.

Morrell said he was disturbed that the troopers involved in the incident are still on active duty, despite the ongoing investigation. He added that incidents such as this make it more difficult to reach the disenchanted young black men who are driving the city’s homicide problem.

“It’s disingenuous for us to approach these men and tell them we care about their futures when incidents like this happen,” Morrell said.

The hearing was fairly well attended, with much of the crowd composed of older black people who expressed clear support for Newman’s comments questioning the troopers’ behavior

Danatus King, president of the NAACP’s local chapter, said that although the State Police are being questioned, the incident is part of long-standing issues with force used by New Orleans police. A New Orleans police officer was on patrol with the troopers who confronted the boys but was not involved with the physical altercation. King said that since the NOPD invited troopers into the city, they have a responsibility for their actions. He noted that prior to the incident, an email from the NOPD appeared to target black men in the French Quarter for extra attention.

“It’s no question about that, it’s an NOPD issue,” King said before the hearing. “We know there is a recurring problem.”

The incident raises the question of how many times things like this escape notice because there are no cameras ready to record the event, said Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“While this incident occurred in the New Orleans, it could happen anywhere in the state of Louisiana,” she said.