Attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department and the MacArthur Justice Center asked a federal judge this week to order Sheriff Marlin Gusman to turn over a stack of some 1,200 reports documenting an array of potentially problematic incidents at Orleans Parish Prison.
The attorneys claim Gusman’s refusal to release the records violates a court-ordered plan to reform the jail, an agreement that calls for the Justice Department and inmate advocates to have unfettered access to the jail and relevant documents. They say they can’t evaluate Gusman’s progress and compliance with the reform plan, known as a consent decree, without being able to review the incident reports.
Many of the consent decree’s sweeping requirements seek to reduce rampant violence at the jail. The Sheriff’s Office, under the terms of the decree, is required to report and document various types of incidents, including inmate-on-inmate assaults and attempted suicides.
In court documents filed this week, the attorneys representing the jail’s inmates in the class-action litigation said Gusman last month provided about 600 of the 1,800 incident reports they requested. But they said the sheriff’s lawyers decided to withhold about 1,200 reports “marked as preliminary,” involving investigations that appeared to be ongoing. The plaintiffs’ attorneys rejected that response, describing it as “opaque claims of privilege that were not asserted with the required specificity.”
“Simply put, Sheriff Gusman has wasted over 10 months and thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees denying, delaying and withholding documents to which plaintiffs are clearly entitled” under the consent decree, the inmates’ attorneys wrote.
“Instead of timely producing the incident reports,” they added, “Sheriff Gusman failed to produce anything for several months and then spent an additional two months reviewing each individual document — racking up a significant amount of legal fees in the process.”
Gusman’s attorneys have not yet responded to the request.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk is set to hear arguments on the matter April 29.
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