The federal government says the city of New Orleans, led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is using a scandal-tarred former Assistant U.S. Attorney as a “strawman” to avoid complying with police reforms.
In a federal court filing Friday in the Eastern District of Louisiana, the U.S. says New Orleans “vastly overstates” the role former prosecutor Sal Perricone played in a consent decree, reached last July after months of difficult negotiations.
Perricone, who resigned after it was revealed he had made vitriolic anonymous comments about targets of federal investigators, was nothing more than a liaison between the Eastern District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney office and the Washington-based Civil Rights Division, the brief said.
Federal lawyers admitted that a Civil Rights Division findings report incorporated one of Perricone’s favorite online phrases, “aorta of corruption,” to describe a paid detail system used by the New Orleans Police. But that phrase was accurately applied, the filing indicated.
The federal lawyers make it clear they do not condone Perricone’s activities, which their brief states are under investigation.
At the center of the scandal-fueled dispute between the Justice Department and the city are comments under several pseudonyms on NOLA.com by Perricone, who at one point sought to become the city’s new police chief.
Landrieu hopes to have U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan vacate her decision endorsing the consent decree.
The mayor, the brother of Louisiana’s veteran Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, believes the on-line commenting scandal has tainted the agreement calling on major changes to the New Orleans Police Department.
Landrieu, who earlier had embraced the effort to reform the police department, also now claims he was not aware of the costs linked to a second agreement involving the Sheriff’s Department and reforms to the jail.
Federal attorneys used their court filing to dispute his claims, saying knowledge of Perricone’s online activities was known almost from the outset.
In its response to the court filing last week, Landrieu’s office said DOJ had mischaracterized its interactions with the city.
Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni, in a statement, said DOJ has demanded New Orleans taxpayers fork over unjustified sum of money that would force police officers to be laid off or furloughed.
New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December after 11 years in the job in reaction to the scandal.