Court sees videos taken at New Orleans jail

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Videos showing inmates at

the New Orleans jail apparently using drugs, drinking beer, gambling

with cash

and possessing at least one large handgun were shown Tuesday

during a hearing in U.S. District Court, accompanied by another

video purportedly showing one of the inmates walking Bourbon


The recordings, believed to be shot by

inmates, were aired during the second day of hearings on a proposed

agreement between

the Justice Department and Sheriff Marlin Gusman to improve

conditions at the Orleans Parish Prison. It was unclear when they

were recorded.

The video was allowed into evidence by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk at the behest of lawyers for the city who oppose the

agreement, citing its potential costs to the city, and who have been highly critical of Gusman's operations of the jail.

Released to reporters at midday Tuesday, the

images are shaky at times, but clear. One cuts from a neighborhood

scene of women

and children on a street to a scene inside the jail, with inmates

smoking, swallowing, snorting and injecting what are believed

to be drugs. Cash changes hands during a jail cell dice game. Some

inmates drink from cans of beer. Cell phones are visible.

One inmate ejects bullets from a large handgun.

"You can get what you want in here," a prisoner is heard saying in the background. "Medication. Pills. Drugs. Heroin."

Another video shows a man strolling up and

down Bourbon Street, peering into strip joints, occasionally chatting

with passing

police on patrol and at one point looking at the recorder and

saying: "Y'all know I'm supposed to be in jail right now." It

is unclear whether that video was shot the same night or how the

man had gotten out of jail if he was, indeed, supposed to

be in the lockup.

It's unclear when the videos were recorded. Testimony and a news release from Gusman indicate the jail scenes took place in

an area of a building on the Orleans Parish Prison campus known as the House of Detention, now closed.

"The House of Detention is a city-owned

building in a state of disrepair and abhorrent lack of proper security

measures. I

closed the House of Detention last year because of these

problems," Gusman's statement said. It added that the building was

only in use at the time because of damage to other buildings in

Hurricane Katrina.

Manny Romero, a prison consultant testifying for the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Justice Department, said after viewing

the video that he had never seen such dysfunction in a jail. He said the amount and nature of some contraband — including

cash, cellphones, drugs and weapons — suggests prisoners may have had help from jail staff in obtaining it.

"It was obvious that they were aware that staff does not go into these units frequently," Romero said under questioning from

Justice Department lawyer Matt Donnely.

The video was introduced at the request of

city officials who oppose the consent decree and also are trying to get

out of

a separate agreement on reform of the New Orleans Police

Department. That agreement was approved by a federal judge in January,

but the city argues the separate jail agreement was negotiated

without the city's knowledge and that both agreements threaten

to bust the municipal budget.

In a statement late Tuesday, Mayor Mitch

Landrieu said, "How can we make our city safe when prisoners are coming

and going

from jail as they please, walking freely on the streets and then

returning to jail with heroin, cocaine, and loaded weapons?

"This tape was hidden away from the public in a safe in the Sheriff's Office and only came to light when the City's legal

team fought to uncover it."

While not disputing the need for

improvements at the jail, Landrieu has said the city was left out of

negotiations for the

sheriff's department's consent decree, and that the cost — by some

estimates as much as $22 million annually — could undermine

public safety by forcing funding cuts for police and other vital


City officials have suggested in court filings that a federal receiver should be appointed for the jail, rather than handing

more money over to Gusman.

"I cannot in good conscience cut vital

services or raise taxes to put even more money into an office where

waste, fraud, and

abuse run rampant. The only way to fix the problem is to put a

federal receiver in place that will run a safe and secure jail

in a financially responsible way," Landrieu's statement said.

The sheriff is an elected official with limited police powers. Most policing of city streets is done by the Police Department

under Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who was appointed by Landrieu.