A New Orleans judge on Monday rejected a request from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration to bar The Times-Picayune and its website, nola.com, from publishing any further details contained in a New Orleans police report about an alleged rape.
Civil District Court Judge Kern Reese did order the newspaper not to reveal the alleged victim’s identity. The Times-Picayune has not published the woman’s name to date, in keeping with a rule most publications follow in sexual assault cases.
But Reese refused to bar the newspaper from publishing other details contained in the police report or from contacting individuals named in that report — steps the Landrieu administration had argued were necessary to prevent “irreparable harm.”
It is extremely rare for a judge in the U.S. to impose restrictions on what a newspaper can publish, even in the case of rape victims. The practice, known as prior restraint, generally runs afoul of the First Amendment.
The city’s request for a temporary restraining order involved the case of a Texas woman who claims she was raped in a hotel room while she was in New Orleans with her husband for Mardi Gras.
Last month, she held a news conference and accused the detective who investigated her case of treating her accusations dismissively. She spoke out just days after the detective, Vernon Haynes, was singled out in a scathing inspector general’s report as one of five NOPD officers who largely ignored the sex-crimes cases assigned to them over the past few years.
Shortly after the woman’s news conference, The Times-Picayune published an article based on what’s known as a supplemental report prepared by the NOPD. It pointed out that several details in the report conflicted with the woman’s public account of the alleged rape.
The woman claims that a hotel security guard forced his way into her room and a struggle ensued. The supplemental report, according to the newspaper, shows the detective concluded, based on interviews and security footage, that the sex was consensual.
In its motion for a restraining order, the City Attorney’s Office pointed out that the city did not and would not have provided that report to the public and called the newspaper’s reporting “abhorrent to public policy and the law.”
The city generally refuses to make supplemental reports public unless a case has been completely adjudicated.
The newspaper’s lawyer, Lori Mince, said, “While we have not named the woman, we have reported on the substance of her claim that her case was mishandled, including all of the facts we have obtained regarding her claim. Allegations of police misconduct are important to the people of this city. In such cases, our mission is to bring the facts to the citizens, and we will continue to fulfill that mission.”