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Testimony continues in Orleans Parish jail reform hearing

Last Modified: Wednesday, April 03, 2013 12:59 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Orleans Parish sheriff is to blame for reckless inmate behavior caught on videos that showed inmates using drugs and brandishing a handgun in a cell, a city official testified Wednesday.

Another video among those released a day ago showed a New Orleans man wandering the French Quarter, claiming he was supposed to be locked up at the time.

Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin was testifying Wednesday in a hearing on whether a federal judge should approve an agreement for jail improvements between Sheriff Marlin Gusman and the Justice Department. Kopplin said state law tasks the city with funding the jail, but the sheriff with running it.

"The sheriff simply can't manage that jail regardless of the amount of money," Kopplin said. "That's why we've been talking about receivership."

Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been pushing for federal authorities to put the jail under federal receivership and place someone other than Gusman in charge of it.

Gusman was expected to testify at the hearing, perhaps as early as Wednesday. He also has said he would hold a Wednesday news conference.

The city objects to the potential cost of the jail agreement, known as a consent decree. Officials say it could jeopardize funding of police and other vital municipal services in a city where Landrieu and the City Council have already made major cuts, along with imposing higher property taxes and fees, since the mayor took office 2010.

City officials say they were largely left out of negotiations over the jail consent decree. Kopplin was questioned by Justice Department attorney Laura Coon, who pointed to correspondence between federal and city officials as evidence that the city was involved. Kopplin said he doubted city lawyers would characterize the interaction as "negotiation," contrasting it with exhaustive meetings the city had with federal attorneys over a separate agreement to reform the police department.

Still, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, presiding over the case, pointedly said that he was involved in some discussions involving the city. "Those negotiations took place," he said at one point, while adding that it wouldn't affect his decision on whether to approve the jail pact.

The video was allowed into evidence by Africk at the behest of lawyers for the city. Officials said they only recently learned that Gusman's office had the video, which appears to have been made by an inmate and is believed to have been recorded in 2009.

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.

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