At least, the New Orleans Ethics Review Board cannot be accused of tokenism.
The board does not merely fall short of the city code’s requirement that it “reflect the diversity of our population,” but repudiates it. Not one of its seven members is female.
The board will meet in a couple of weeks to consider a request from its appointee, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux. He appointed Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, but only the board can fire her, and that is what he urged in a letter made public a couple of weeks ago. Now she has issued a spirited defense of her performance. A mutual disdain comes shining through their correspondence.
Perhaps the universities that nominate candidates for the board, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who makes the appointments, and the City Council, which approves them, will ensure that, as vacancies arise, women will be invited to bother their heads with ethics. But right now the question is whether the guys will stick together.
The board holds Quatrevaux in high esteem, having reappointed him a couple of years ago, but he evidently finds that sharing office space with Hutson hampers his efforts to keep municipal officials on the straight and narrow.
He believes that, since the city charter makes her operation a division of his, he is her supervisor. She feels that, if that were so, her title would make no sense, so she refuses to seek his approval before issuing reports.
Quatrevaux’s letter to the board contains a litany of complaints, but pride of place goes to her release of a video showing a cop roughing up a 16-year-old girl in an intake cell. If, as Quatrevaux asserts, this is “the most recent and most egregious example of Ms. Hutson’s ethical misconduct,” it is hard to see what the fuss is all about. Indeed, a refusal to let the public see the video might have been regarded as a dereliction. Neither Quatrevaux nor anyone else denies that it is a public record.
Hutson certainly had a motive of her own here. The offending cop, Terrance Saulny, was fired, but NOPD declined Hutson’s request that he be criminally charged. She evidently hoped that the video would cause sufficient outrage for a prosecution to be instigated. That hasn’t happened yet.
The victim, who is reportedly bipolar, is shown alone in a tiny airless cell, when she commences kicking the door and apparently yelling. There is no sound, but profanities were allegedly used. After a minute or so, Saulny bursts in, the girl is grabbed and manhandled, thrown to the floor and struck hard a couple of times with shackles, which are then placed around her feet.
She is handcuffed too, and Saulny evidently utters a few profanities of his own, before making his exit and leaving her slumped on a bench.
Saulny was fired in June, and Hutson, after failing to persuade NOPD to book him too, posted the video July 1. She was summoned to a meeting two weeks later in the chambers of U.S. Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing compliance with a consent decree requiring NOPD to mend its unconstitutional and thuggish ways.
According to Quatrevaux, who was not at the meeting, Morgan was “concerned” about the release of the video and wanted to establish a “protocol” for “the release of videos within the confines of the law.” When Hutson turned “combative” and made it clear she would “release information in violation of the judge’s directive,” Morgan restricted her to “view only” access to NOPD records, Quatrevaux wrote.
In her response Hutson says she will continue to “follow Louisiana public records law” and can be held personally liable if she suppresses public records of which she is custodian.
Whether federal judges can force state officials to bury public records is a question we must leave to the lawyers, but Hutson says Morgan issued no written orders anyway.
So the city‘s two watchdogs remain at each other’s throat.
Still, cometh the hour, cometh the man, they say, and we await a plan to resolve the dispute. Since it is the ethics board that has to sort this out, we know that it will have to be a man that cometh.
James Gill can be reached at email@example.com.