Judge says the sheriff’s office is more transparent but more information is needed

Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 6:39 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A federal judge who blasted the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office over not being forthcoming enough about trouble at the jail says there has been improvement. But he says more information is needed, including on two deaths at the prison in June.

During a status hearing, Chief Magistrate Judge Michael North acknowledge progress has been made, in terms of the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office informing the court and the public about serious incidents.

“Things have changed slightly for the better, but only slightly,” said Judge North.

Weeks ago, he sharply criticized the sheriff’s office over what he considered to be a lack of information provided about violence and deaths at the prison complex.

Doneshia Turner is the city attorney for New Orleans.

“We are getting the information and what we’re going to do is continue to work with OPSO, so that they can continue to be transparent with the city, so we’re just partners with them and we believe that they will be more transparent in the future,” she said.

But on investigations into incidents and what is being done by the sheriff’s office to remedy problems plaguing the prison the judge says more information is needed.

The judge said there was a homicide and a suicide in the prison in June and he still has not received information about the investigations into those incidents.

“We’re still not hearing enough,” said North.

So, he told the sheriff’s office to submit a plan for reporting such information.

Sheriff Susan Hutson was inside the courtroom for the hearing. Afterward, she refused to comment on the proceedings.

Also, during the hearing, North received an update on the proposed Phase 3 project for the prison which involves a special needs unit for prisoners with mental health issues and other serious conditions.

New Orleans Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano commented while leaving court.

“I think it’s forward progression. I think it was a positive interaction. I think we certainly have some details to iron out, but I think we’re all on the same page,” said Montano.

An update on Phase 3 from the city’s perspective was given in court.

Afterward, Montano said, “This is an important investment in the criminal justice system and the sheriff’s office is an absolutely vital component for that, we want to make sure that they have a constitutional jail and it’s our obligation to ensure that we have the resources, they have the resources within the reality of our budget systems to be able to provide.” When running for sheriff Susan Hutson said she favored retrofitting the current prison instead of building Phase 3 but now her idea is a moot point, in terms of the court’s stance.

“Yes, is the short answer. I think we’re, we are moving forward, we have been ordered to do so and we are obliging the court to ensure that, that occurs,” Montano said.

The sheriff’s office says the Justice Department and lawyers representing inmates in the consent decree have been granted improved access to incident reports and other information.

But attorneys advocating for inmates say they cannot look at all reports in real-time and they said they got access to video from body-worn cameras that had been requested but cannot look at videos at will.

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