Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday that former New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley will not have a place in her new administration, casting her decision as a regrettable one that was prompted by the lingering trauma of high-profile police killings in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The decision to pull the plug on Riley’s appointment comes after weeks of pressure from victims’ families and criminal justice advocates urging Cantrell not to put him in charge of the city’s public safety agencies.
New documents released by Riley on Wednesday show that he had already accepted an offer from Cantrell at a salary of $180,000, just days before the mayor first acknowledged that he was on a “short list” of candidates for the role.
Former Police Superintendent Warren Riley apparently had good reason to think his appointment to head public-safety efforts under Mayor LaToya…
In a statement Wednesday, Cantrell insisted that Riley’s post-NOPD experience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a federal coordinating officer after disasters would have made him “uniquely qualified for a role as our city’s director of homeland security and public safety.”
But Riley’s potential appointment drew fierce criticism of his leadership of the Police Department in the years after Katrina and his alleged lack of interest in getting to the bottom of allegations against officers concerning the deaths of unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge and other violent incidents.
Cantrell did not criticize Riley’s tenure at NOPD in her statement or directly refer to any particular abuses, saying instead that she was not hiring him because “the (community's) pain is too great.”
“We will be sensitive to the struggles of our residents and neighbors that endured, and that stayed through the storm,” Cantrell said. “In many instances, in those days, government was part of what they had to struggle against. In closing the door on this hire, I want to send a clear message that under my administration — the city government is not going to be part of the problem.”
The mayor’s about-face on Riley came more than three weeks after he had accepted a formal job offer from Cantrell to oversee all of the city’s first responders, including the NOPD.
Days after that letter was signed on April 22, however, Cantrell was noncommittal about whether Riley would be working for her. Asked about Riley by a WDSU-TV reporter, she referred to him as being “on the short list” for the job.
In a statement Wednesday, Cantrell spokesman Beau Tidwell noted that Riley was to be hired as an at-will employee.
"It was and is within the mayor’s discretion to continue evaluating the hire, and ultimately to elect not to move forward," he said. "Regardless of the timing of his paperwork, the nature of the position Mr. Riley was being considered for was such that the offer and the role could be rescinded at any time."
In her first few days in office, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has identified at least $7 million in uncollected city revenue, created an Office of Tr…
News of Riley’s potential hiring set off a furor in the community that eventually resulted in Cantrell announcing that she was “hitting pause” on the decision at a news conference a week later.
In a statement largely focused on his own qualifications, Riley said Wednesday that he hadn’t learned about Cantrell’s change of heart until just a half-hour before that news conference, where he expected to be presented to the public along with five other officials appointed by the new administration.
At that point, he had already filled out the paperwork needed to officially rejoin city government.
“It is with great regret that I will not have the opportunity to bring my commitment to community and wealth of national and international emergency management and law enforcement expertise to the great, historic and progressive city of New Orleans,” Riley said.
The former chief said Cantrell’s decision to “rescind my appointment is concerning on several levels,” and he sought to “set the record straight” about his actions during and after Katrina.
Riley recalled that he was at a temporary police field office set up at Harrah’s Casino on Canal Street during the shootings on the Danziger Bridge, which left two civilians dead and four others wounded, and that he had no communications at the time with the officers involved in the killings.
Riley has never been accused of direct involvement in the 2005 incident but rather of setting an aggressive tone for law enforcement in the storm’s aftermath and then, after becoming chief, for failing to scrutinize his officers’ prior behavior.
In response to one particular accusation — that he didn’t even read the official report on the Danziger shootings — Riley said he had been briefed multiple times by the chief of detectives, who was heading the investigation, and noted the case eventually made its way to the court system.
“As then superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, I followed all standard operating procedures related to this incident,” he said.
Cantrell still plans to fill the position she had set aside for Riley, Tidwell said.
A similar position, the deputy mayor for public safety, was created under Mayor Mitch Landrieu but was left vacant after its first occupant, Jerry Sneed, became the head of the Orleans Parish Communications District.