Exclusive: DOJ to Conduct Assessment of New Orleans Police
By Ryan J. Reilly | May 14, 2010 8:44 pm

The Department of Justice plans to announce Monday that it will conduct an assessment of the city of New Orleans’ troubled police department.

Thomas Perez (file photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

Ryan Berni, a spokesman for the mayor of New Orleans, confirmed to Main Justice late Friday that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will conduct an investigation of the police force. Details of the plan are set to be announced at a news conference in New Orleans Monday.

Last week, the city’s newly installed mayor, Mitch Landrieu, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Department of Justice for help in rooting out abuse and corruption in the police department.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the announcement or the assessment.

Civil Rights Division chief Thomas Perez, along with a deputy assistant attorney general and Eastern District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, will be on hand for the announcement.

Berni said that Landrieu met with Holder to discuss the city’s police department.

The DOJ’s assessment will likely lead to a consent decree with the city, a legally binding agreement that would allow the department to step in and institute changes, including the appointment of a federal monitor who would oversee any reforms. In 2000, the DOJ reached a similar deal with the city of Los Angeles.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has been considering a lawsuit against the city under a 1991 law that allows the DOJ to intervene if it can prove a “pattern or practice” of disregarding the law or constitutional rights.

“Criminal prosecutions alone, I have learned, are not enough to change the culture of a police department,” Perez told the website Talking Points Memo in an interview last month. He added that the division was considering “every conceivable jurisdictional option and every conceivable intervention.”

The DOJ currently has at least eight open civil rights investigations into the New Orleans Police Department. Since 2008, the Justice Department has been investigating a post-Hurricane Katrina shooting in which New Orleans police officers allegedly shot at unarmed civilians in the wake of the 2005 hurricane that devastated the city. Four officers so far have pleaded guilty to involvement in the shooting at the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans or in the subsequent cover-up.

Leah Nylen contributed to this story.

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