New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten is recovering after undergoing surgery on Wednesday to replace an aortic heart valve, the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Louisiana said in a news release.
The procedure was planned and considered “a complete success,” accoording to the office.
Letten was released from Ochsner Foundation Hospital in Jefferson, La., on Sunday. He will return to work soon, the office’s news release said.
In the news release, Letten expressed his gratitude to his doctors, Freddy Abi Samra and Gene Parrino, and hospital CEO Patrick Quinlan.
Six New Orleans Police Department officers were indicted Tuesday in connection with a now-infamous shooting that occurred on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
The indictment alleges that four officers – Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso — open fired on the Danziger Bridge, killing two individuals and wounding four others. The shootings allegedly occurred on Sept. 4, 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Faulcon also is charged with shooting a 40-year-old mentally disabled man in the back, and Bowen faces charges for allegedly kicking the man while he was dying.
The four officers face up to life in prison or the death penalty, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten said.
Two supervisors – Arthur “Archie” Kaufman and Gerard Dugue – are charged with obstructing justice during the subsequent investigations. Kaufman faces 120 years in prison, while Dugue faces 70 years, Letten said.
The indictments were unveiled during a news conference in New Orleans with Letten, Attorney General Eric Holder, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez and Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division Kevin Perkins.
All of the officers were in custody by Tuesday, Letten said.
Five other police officers and a civilian have already pleaded guilty to federal charges they obstructed justice and engaged in a cover-up of the shootings.
At the news conference, Holder said that the announcement “marks an important step forward in administering justice, in healing community wounds, in improving public safety, and in restoring public trust in this city’s police department.”
“It will take more than this investigation to renew the New Orleans Police Department and allow it to thrive,” Holder said. The DOJ “is committed to using our civil statutes, technical expertise, and other tools to implement sustainable reforms and address the systemic problems that have challenged this department.”
Holder also recognized what he called the “outstanding leadership and partnership” of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D). In May, Landrieu wrote at letter to Holder asking for the Justice Department to conduct an assessment of the city’s police department and the criminal justice system.
“This process is far from over. And I want leaders and residents of New Orleans to know that the Justice Department is committed to providing whatever assistance this city, its police department, and its people need,” Holder said. “You have, and deserve, nothing less that my full and ongoing support.”
The indictment is embedded below.
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At an event in the Great Hall Monday honoring the contributions of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is working to “[live] up to its responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee is respected and given an equal opportunity to thrive.”
Holder also pointed to the Obama administration’s accomplishments on LGBT issues including the new federal hate crimes law — the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act that the president signed into law in October — and the Justice Department’s recent decision that the Violence Against Women Act covers same-sex partners.
“We have much to celebrate today. In the year since we last gathered, our nation – and the Justice Department – have taken steps to address some of the unique challenges faced by members of our country’s LGBT community,” said Holder in remarks at the annual DOJ LGBT Pride Month event.
DOJ Pride was founded in 1994, and flourished when Janet Reno was Attorney General. Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales later banned the group from using Justice Department facilities. Attorney General Michael Mukasey welcomed DOJ Pride back to the Great Hall in 2008, and DOJ Pride President Chris Hook said the event has grown in size since the Obama administration took over in January 2009.
During his remarks, Holder also touted the DOJ’s new Diversity Management Plan — which calls for greater diversity in such areas as hiring, promotions and retention — and the appointment of former acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips to manage the implementation of the plan as Deputy Associate Attorney General for Diversity.
“With this initiative, and with Channing’s leadership, we’re working to ensure that the department can effectively recruit, hire, retain, and develop a workforce that reflects our nation’s rich diversity, a department that welcomes and encourages the contributions of its LGBT employees,” Holder said.
Holder did not address some of the controversies that LGBT advocates have raised with the Department of Justice, such as the DOJ’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act and the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez introduced the keynote speaker, U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, the first openly gay federal prosecutor to head a U.S Attorney’s office.
“What a difference two years makes,” Durkan said. “Today I stand before you as the first openly gay U.S. Attorney. But I can promise you I’m not the last. In fact, today there are three Senate confirmed openly gay U.S. Attorneys in America.
“Two followed me. I started a trend. But I do want to point out, they’re all women. So guys, you need to step it up,” Durkan joked.
She also praised Holder’s work on the LGBT issues, saying that “there is nobody more committed to equality and justice across America than our Attorney General Eric Holder.”
Sharon Lubinski, the first openly gay U.S. Marshal, also spoke at the ceremony and was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Officials in attendance at the event included Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division Tony West; Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno of the Environment and Natural Resources Division; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten; U.S. Attorney for Minnesota B. Todd Jones; U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul Fishman; and Chris Dudley, Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
DOJ Pride also gave out three awards, including to two local advocates for same-sex marriage. D.C. Councilmember David A. Catania, the force behind the law that made same-sex marriage legal in the District of Columbia, received the Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award along with Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Gansler was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia under then-U.S. Attorney Holder.
Hook received the James R. Douglass Award for his leadership of DOJ Pride. He took over in 2006, when the group had shrank dramatically during the Bush administration, but it has since grown back to the size it was during the Clinton administration.
Hook made it clear when he took over the organization in 2006 that DOJ Pride “did not intend to go into hiding,” said Marc Salans, Assistant Director of the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management, who presented the award.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Justice, the Justice Management Division’s Equal Employment Opportunity staff and DOJ Pride.
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In an interview with Main Justice Monday, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana Jim Letten said as a native of New Orleans, he is proud of the Justice Department’s commitment to overhauling the city’s troubled police department.
“I know this community, I’m born and raised here in New Orleans. I’ve been U.S. Attorney here for a number of years, I’m a career prosecutor,” said Letten in an interview following Monday’s news conference, where federal officials announced they would conduct an investigation into the New Orleans Police Department. “On a professional level, and also on a very, very deeply personal level, I am committed to making sure that all of the resources possible are thrown into the process to help make NOPD the best police department in the country.”
Letten said the newly elected leadership in New Orleans was key to allowing the federal probe to more forward.
“I’ve known Mitch Landrieu since we were both very young men, and I have a great deal of respect for him. Literally, on the day after he won the election, my cell phone rang. It was a Sunday morning, and Mitch called me to acknowledge his interest in realizing a partnership with the Department of Justice,” Letten said.
Since that call, Letten said, Landrieu has continued to engage in robust dialogue with other DOJ officials, including Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Letten said he has spoken with Holder about the city’s police department several times, and the Attorney General is “very deeply aware of, committed to, and cognizant of the need for reform in the police department, the need for resources.”
“He is deeply aware of challenges our city and our department is faced,” Letten said. “This process didn’t happen yesterday.”
Letten also said the probe shows that the city is ready for changes.
“I’m extraordinarily excited to be in on the ground here in New Orleans. Our office has been aggressive and I think successful at I think attacking public corruption with a ferocity probably unmatched in recent history in this city, or perhaps in the history of this city at all. We’ve helped to fuel a real appetite for transparent government by the citizens and by the press corps, the press corps here really gets it.”
Perez will meet with community members to discuss their concerns about the police department. A local radio station has made audio of the news conference available on its website.
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The Justice Department will immediately begin an evaluation of the New Orleans Police Department that will likely lead to a consent decree, federal officials announced at a news conference Monday.
“We already have boots on the ground right now. We will spend a lot of time here in the weeks and months ahead in the city of New Orleans,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Monday.
Earlier this month, New Orleans 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.
In a letter to Landrieu officially agreeing to conduct the assessment, Perez said the probe will identify areas or practices that need to be reformed and “examine allegations of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and seizures, racial profiling, failures to provide adequate police services to particular neighborhoods and related misconduct.”
At the news conference, Landrieu said that the city “must totally transform the criminal justice system.” He also called that the level of crime in the city was “unnatural and unacceptable.”
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was also on hand for the announcement along with Department of Justice Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr.
The 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.
Main Justice reported Friday that the Justice Department had accepted Landrieu’s request for an evaluation of the New Orleans Police Department.
The police department was already the subject of at least eight open civil rights investigations. DOJ had 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.
Update 10:10 p.m. In an interview with The New York Times before the news conference, Perez said he was optimistic about the pattern and practice investigation because of unusually widespread support for federal involvement from New Orleans citizens and officials.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in other cities at this early stage,” said Perez. “Often we spend months and sometimes years building that consensus.”
Perez said he felt that “right now the time is ripe and the critical forces have really come together.”
Leah Nylen contributed to this story.
UPDATE: The letter from Perez to Landrieu is embedded below.
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New Orleans U.S. Attorney Jim Letten on Friday received an award for his integrity and success in winning convictions, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.
The award was given by Crimefighters, an organization in Louisiana that provides free medical, psychological and legal assistance to crime victims.
“We’re beginning to turn the corner on corruption,” Letten said Friday after receiving the award. He also thanked “the people you don’t see,” who he said are deserving of the award.
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Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, has recused himself from the case against four conservative activists who were arrested for allegedly interfering with phones in Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office.
According to a brief news release sent to local reporters late Monday evening, Letten recused himself from the case a day after the Jan. 25 arrests in Landrieu’s office in New Orleans, reports the Associated Press. Letten’s top lieutenant, assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, has taken over.
The news release did not say why Letten removed himself, according to The AP, and his spokeswoman Anna Christman said she could not comment.
One possible reason — one of the suspects, Robert Flanagan, is the son of acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana William J. Flanagan.
Reached by Main Justice Tuesday morning, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans said that the recusal spoke for itself and the office wasn’t going to comment beyond that.
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Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) will no longer hold up federal nominations in his state after receiving assurance that the job of the George W. Bush-holdover U.S. Attorney in New Orleans is safe, The Times-Picayune reported today.
The Republican senator now will return his “blue slip” on Western District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney nominee Stephanie Finley and other federal nominees, which he had been withholding until he received official word on the status of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
The Senate Judiciary Committee traditionally does not consider a nomination until it receives a “blue slip” from the nominee’s home state senator.
Vitter had asked the administration to keep Letten, who has led the Eastern District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2001. Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Letten would serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, which serves as the voice of U.S. Attorneys throughout the nation, sending a strong signal that his job was safe.
“This prestigious appointment makes it crystal clear that Jim isn’t going anywhere except on regular trips to Washington to personally advise the attorney general,” Vitter told the newspaper. “The attorney general and I superficially discussed this in our meeting last Thursday and I’m really excited to get it done.”
Letten’s office is handling the case against four men who allegedly tried to interfere with phones at Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s New Orleans office. One of the men, Robert Flanagan, is the son of Western District of Louisiana acting U.S. Attorney William Flanagan. James O’Keefe, who gained notoriety for secret videos of the community organizing group ACORN, was one of Flanagan’s accomplices.
Andrew Breitbart, the founder of BigGovernment.com, which employs O’Keefe, said today on Fox News that Letten leaked information on the incident in a “concerted effort” to put O’Keefe in a bad light. Letten’s office denied the allegation.
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An associate of conservative video-maker James O’Keefe, who is charged with trying to interfere with the phones at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) office in New Orleans, has accused the prosecutor overseeing the case of leaking information about the arrests to the news media.
Andrew Breitbart, a former Drudge Report editor and founder of BigGovernment.com, which employs O’Keefe, directed his ire at Jim Letten, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Breitbart made the claims in an appearance on Fox News. Letten’s office has denied his allegations.
Breitbart also alleged that O’Keefe “sat in jail for 28 hours without access to an attorney.”
O’Keefe, 25, gained fame last year for making secret videos in several offices of the community organizing group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) that led to congressional efforts to cut off federal funding for the group.
O’Keefe was arrested last week in New Orleans along with three other conservative activists, including Robert Flanagan, the son of William J. Flanagan, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana in Lafayette.
Breitbart said that Letten’s purported leaks were a “concerted effort” to frame the episode in a way that would put O’Keefe in a bad position, reports Talking Points Memo. But the first report of the arrests came last Tuesday after the U.S. Attorney’s Office put out a press release around the same time as an article on the case, in the Times-Picayune was posted online.
Asked what motivation the U.S. Attorney would have to make such an effort, Breitbart responded: “Well, it’s tied to the Justice Department. And we’ve been very aggressive in asking Eric Holder to investigate what’s seen on the ACORN tapes, and he’s ignored it.”
Letten is a Republican who was appointed by President George W. Bush. He has bipartisan support from the state’s two senators to continue serving during the Obama administration, and was today named to an advisory panel for the Attorney General, a strong indication that Holder will retain him in his post.
Letten’s office denied Breitbart’s allegations in an interview with TPMmuckraker this afternoon. Jan Mann, first assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, told the site: “The suggestion that he makes about the motivations of our office are untrue. We’re not going to try this case in the press. But we deny the accusations about our office.”
According to an Associated Press narrative about the events leading up to the arrests, Flanagan met O’Keefe, Joseph Basel, 24, and Stan Dai, 24, after O’Keefe spoke at The Pelican Institute, a think tank where Flanagan works. Their first meeting came five days before their arrest, said J. Garrison Jordan, Flanagan’s lawyer.
Flanagan, writes the AP, was an All-American pitcher for the Division III baseball team at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., He enrolled last year at Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, in Fairfax, Va. And he interned for Republican Rep. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Sen. Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.).
This story has been edited from its original version for clarity and to make clear that Jim Letten’s office denies the allegations.
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Attorney General Eric Holder today appointed three U.S. Attorneys to his Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC).
The group is an influential policy-making and advisory body that serves as the voice of U.S. Attorneys throughout the country.
The new members of the advisory panel are Sanford Coats, of the Western District of Oklahoma; Steven M. Dettelbach, of the Northern District of Ohio; and Jim Letten, of the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The Justice Department news release gave brief biographical data on each of the new members.
Holder noted that AGAC, which was created in 1973, provides advice to the attorney general on policy, management and operational matters affecting the U.S. Attorneys Offices.
The AGAC now has 15 members. Its chairman is B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.
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