A scandal spawned by a federal prosecutor’s anonymous posts on NOLA.com, the Times-Picayune website, has poisoned a sweeping agreement to clean up the city’s troubled police department, a group representing rank-and-file New Orleans police officers argued in a court filing Friday. In the filing, the Police Association of New Orleans asked U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan to let the group intervene in the court-supervised consent decree between the Justice Department and the city.
Morgan rejected the same request in August, but PANO urged her to reconsider in light of revelations about the online activities of a prosecutor who helped negotiate the agreement.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Sal Perricone resigned in March after acknowledging he criticized judges and politicians and commented on cases, including the consent decree, in anonymous posts on NOLA.com. “The NOPD will never change if left to its own devices,” one of his posts said. “It’s a corrupt culture which has existed for years.”
PANO argues that Perricone’s comments prove the federal government can’t adequately represent the police officers’ interests in implementing the reforms. “The attitude, demeanor and beliefs displayed by such a high ranking member of the Department of Justice negotiation team undermines the entire negotiation process and justifiably show that (PANO’s) interest cannot be, and has not been, adequately protected by either the (federal government) or (the city),” the group’s lawyer wrote.
Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December after a second supervisor in his office, Jan Mann, admitted she also posted anonymous comments on NOLA.com. Mann retired last month.
Perricone played a key role in negotiating the consent decree for the U.S. Attorney’s Office prior to his resignation.
Among his posts, Perricone took swipes at Mayor Mitch Landrieu and police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, accusing them of lagging over the consent decree.
Under one NOLA.com story about a frog that was found to have the world’s smallest vertebrae, Perricone quipped: “Maybe we can convince him to be police superintendent. It is abudantly clear that larger vertebrates can’t do the job.”
He made the comment under the online alias “Henry L. Mencken 1951,” one of several pseudonyms he used for his online barbs.
Just before Perricone resigned, Landrieu wondered aloud if the postings had “poisoned” the talks over the consent decree. Landrieu called the flap “a hiccup in the process.” City and Justice Department finalized the agreement in July.
Morgan heard testimony about the consent decree during a “fairness hearing” in September but she hasn’t decided whether to approve the reforms. She has scheduled a status conference in the case for Jan. 11. Earlier, she rejected pleas from PANO, the Fraternal Order of Police, Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson and citizens group Community United for Change to gain a seat at the table.
The agreement, spelled out in a 124-page document, would require the Police Department to overhaul its policies and procedures for use of force, training, interrogations, searches and arrests, recruitment and supervision. It would resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that New Orleans police officers have engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional activity.