Monday, April 4, 2011

New Orleans: THE COLOR OF JUSTICE

Three years ago when I started this blog, I asked myself what the ongoing themes/topics would probably be. The first item that came to mind was justice. If you look at the top of the page under the title, you will see “Justice” prominently mentioned. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I live in New Orleans and justice is often served cold here, rather than warm and fuzzy. Last week, we saw two instances in which the New Orleans brand of justice was ice cold.

The first story that jumped off the page is that of former death row inmate John Thompson (below with wife, Laverne Thompson), who was wrongfully convicted of the 1984 murder of a hotel executive. Thompson was released in 2007, after it was revealed that two former New Orleans prosecutors withheld blood evidence that may well have exonerated Thompson almost three decades ago. Thompson sued the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office and was awarded $14 million. The D.A.’s office objected to the award, on the grounds that it should not be held accountable for the two prosecutors who hid the evidence. To make a very long, drawn out legal story short, the D.A. won. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the current D.A., Leon Cannizzaro, cannot be held accountable for the actions of two prosecutors who worked for former D.A. Harry Connick.

Connick, for his part, went on the a New Orleans radio talk show and defended himself, contending that even if the blood evidence had been made available, it would not have cleared Thompson. How he knows that is a mystery. Connick (right) has a history of defending the D.A.’s office even when there is no clear defense. For example, back in 1991, Dino Cinel, a former Catholic priest admitted he videotaped and photographed sexual trysts with young boys in a church rectory. He also admitted that he and the boys smoked pot together. It’s all on tape. Connick declined to prosecute Cinel. Connick, a devout Catholic, later told Vanity Fair magazine that he did not bring charges against Cinel because he did not want to “embarrass the Mother Church.” Although wildly popular in New Orleans – he served as D.A. for 30 years – Connick nonetheless has a questionable track record when it comes to justice.

Current D.A. Cannizzaro claims the judgment against his office would have shuttered all current and near future legal work, because the money was not there to pay Thompson. In a news conference after the Supreme Court ruling was released, Thompson said, “I’m not worried about their money. I want them to be held accountable.”

As it stands, Thompson receives a measly, mandatory $150,000 from the state, and not one cent from the office that stole 23 years of his life. Essentially, the Supreme Court has implied in its ruling that prosecutors are independent agents, even though they report to the D.A. The two prosecutors who withheld evidence were not charged, and the office to which they reported was not held financially accountable. That is New Orleans justice. It bears mentioning that Thompson spent fourteen of his incarceration years on death row and was prepared for execution seven times. Further, there is precedent for this type of case. In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant's innocence. Failure to do so is a violation of the defendant's constitutional rights.

It also bears mentioning that Justice Clarence Thomas – he of questionable integrity – wrote the decision on behalf of his fellow justices. Thomas wrote the decision knowing full well that Gerry Deegan, a junior assistant D.A. on the Thompson case, confessed as he lay dying of cancer that he had withheld the crime lab test results and removed a blood sample from the evidence room.

In a second New Orleans case that made big headlines, two New Orleans cops were sentenced for the shooting of Henry Glover, 31, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Former police officer David Warren was sentenced to 25 years, while former officer Greg McRae got 17 years. (photo below: Warren is on the left; McRae, right) While Glover did the shooting, Warren is guilty of burning the car with Glover’s body in it. Supposedly, Warren shot Glover in the chest because he believed Glover was guilty of looting at a shopping mall. Clearly, the reason McRae burned the vehicle was simply to hide the evidence, while a third officer was found guilty of filing a false police report.

Observers in New Orleans are left to wonder why Warren was not sentenced to life in prison. Glover’s family is outraged. Under Louisiana sentencing guidelines, Warren could legally be sentenced to life, and McRae could legally be sentenced to 50 years. If those maximum guidelines do not apply to the two defendants in this case, to whom will they ever apply? Glover was unarmed and not the aggressor here. There is no justification for excessive force or murder in this case.

Recently, the Department of Justice severely dressed down the New Orleans Police Department, accusing the Department of racial profiling. Among the laundry list of items the NOPD has to answer to the DOJ for, is this:
"NOPD use of force data also shows a troubling racial disparity that warrants a searching inquiry into whether racial bias influenced the use of force at NOPD.”
"Of the 27 instances between January 2009 and May 2010 in which NOPD officers intentionally discharged their firearms at people, all 27 of the subjects of this deadly force were African-American," the report stated without specifying if any -- or how many -- were fatally wounded.
A review of "resisting arrest" reports documenting use of force over the same period found blacks were the subjects 81 out of 96 times.


We have a crisis of injustice in the city of New Orleans. Whether improvement comes as a result of the DOJ’s severe criticism of the NOPD remains to be seen. For John Thompson and Henry Glover, justice simply did not happen.

2 comments:

Champs said...

is this called Justice????


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seoinheritx said...

I am also think about same things.
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