Justice Department Files for Contempt and Requests Receiver to Operate Orleans Parish Jail
The Justice Department has filed for contempt against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman regarding his non-compliance with a consent decree governing conditions of confinement at the Orleans Parish Jail in New Orleans, and has requested that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana appoint a receiver with full authority to administer operations of the jail until compliance is achieved.
The filing was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The department’s filing details Sheriff Gusman’s inability to achieve compliance with the vast majority of provisions of the court’s 2013 consent judgment despite extensive technical assistance from the monitors appointed by the court, additional court ordered relief, frequent court hearings and intensive oversight by the court, the department and the plaintiff class.
Although the court ordered the consent judgment more than two years ago, Gusman remains dangerously non-compliant with numerous substantive provisions that immediately impact the safety and health of Orleans Parish prisoners. The department requests a finding that Gusman is in contempt of the consent decree provisions on prisoner supervision, suicide prevention, use of force, incident reporting and tracking, prisoner grievances, investigations, classification, youthful prisoners and sanitation and environmental health. The most recent compliance report filed by the court monitors confirms not only Gusman’s widespread non-compliance, but also regression from the small degree of progress previously achieved. In addition, the court monitors fault the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office (OPSO) leadership for a failure to commit to achieving compliance.
The court heard monitor testimony this month about the March 2016 jail suicide of Cleveland Tumblin, who died by hanging himself from a known suicide hazard – behind a locked door – after a mental health evaluation flagged him for mental health follow-up that he did not receive. The mental health monitor further testified that, despite OPSO being on notice of systemic problems from a mortality review of the suicide, those problems had not been fixed. During the monitors’ site visit this month, shower stall doors were still locked from the inside and suicide cut-down tools that were too dull to rescue Tumblin remained too dull to cut a sheet of notebook paper.
Due to Gusman’s inability to achieve compliance, concerns about OPSO’s leadership shortcomings and top-to-bottom staffing deficiencies, the department is filing an enforcement action and requesting that a court-appointed receiver manage the jail until substantial compliance with the consent decree is achieved. The department requests a receiver with the full authority to administer operations of the jail, including the ability to discipline, reassign, terminate and promote jail employees; develop and implement policies and procedures; allocate jail budget funds; and enter into contracts for jail services. The department further seeks an opportunity to submit briefing to the court regarding the proposed duties and authority of a receiver.
This case was initiated as a private prisoner class action filed in 2012. The department intervened pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, which authorizes the department to seek a remedy for a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitutional rights of persons confined in a jail, prison or other correctional facility. The department’s motion was filed jointly with the plaintiff class, represented by the MacArthur Justice Center.
For more information on the Civil Rights Division, please visit www.justice.gov/crt.