NOPD emails indicate intent to disclose shooting, but no press release included _lowres

Associated Press file photo by JANET McCONNAUGHEY -- New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas

Emails between the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Information Office and a 4th District supervisor indicate that information about an officer-involved shooting in Algiers on Monday morning was supposed to be released to the media, but they do not show that a news release was ever written about the incident.

The messages were obtained through a public-records request filed Thursday by The New Orleans Advocate seeking the document that Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said was authorized for release, as well as any memos about it.

While Serpas said Wednesday evening that he had authorized a release about the shooting, one was not included in the email messages, nor were there any written messages from the superintendent.

NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble said Serpas authorized the press release in a phone call with Deputy Superintendent Arlinda Westbrook on Monday.

A daily police log of major crimes that the department sent to local media on Monday listed an incident in which an officer suffered a hand injury during a scuffle with a then-unnamed person, but it said nothing about the officer shooting at or wounding the man.

On Wednesday, police identified the man as 26-year-old Armand Bennett and said he suffered a graze wound to the head. Nandi Campbell, Bennett’s attorney, said he remained hospitalized Thursday with six or seven staples in his head but was getting ready to be moved to Orleans Parish Prison.

The NOPD identified the officer who shot Bennett as Lisa Lewis. She was placed on desk duty pending the outcome of an investigation.

Serpas said Thursday he had been “surprised” no reporters asked about the officer-involved shooting during news conferences held Monday and Tuesday to discuss Sunday’s drive-by shooting in the Lower 9th Ward. It is a common practice for reporters to ask off-topic questions at news conferences because it can be difficult to get comments from officials otherwise.

Serpas himself did not raise the topic at either briefing.

Serpas on Thursday dodged a direct answer when asked if he had followed up with his subordinates about the release after noticing that no reporters pressed him about the incident and that there were no stories about it online, in print or on news broadcasts until Wednesday.

“There’s a lot of stuff we do y’all don’t report, so it didn’t occur to me,” he said. “I thought (the release) went out. I thought the direction was clear that it was supposed to go out.”

Serpas said he does not believe there is a departmental policy ordering the release of information about officer-involved shootings. “It’s my policy,” he said.

Campbell said Serpas’ statements resembled excuses a child with his “hand caught in the cookie jar” would make.

“If he was 100 percent committed to being transparent, he would’ve followed up and said, ‘Hey, did y’all send this to the press?’ ” Campbell said. “We don’t actually have a press release dated the day he said he authorized it.”

Campbell said she is certain the department would have been more vocal about the incident if the officer had been shot or more severely injured.

“I’m sure if the officer was in the hospital with seven staples in her head, (Serpas) would’ve followed up,” Campbell said. “He would’ve had a press conference, not a press release.”

Follow Danny Monteverde on Twitter, @DCMonteverde.