Sheriff Marlin Gusman rejects claims of chaos at New Orleans jail: 'Couldn't be further from the truth' _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Marlin Gusman leads a group of clergy and supporters to the front of the Orleans Parish Justice Center and Jail in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The press conference comes a day ahead of a U.S. Department of Justice receivership hearing at Federal Court to remove Gusman from control of the jail.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman expressed confidence Friday that he will overcome an effort by the federal government to take control of the city’s jail, accusing the U.S. Justice Department of “dwelling on the past.”

The sheriff, addressing reporters after a third day of testimony in U.S. District Court, said he took particular exception to the claim that he has “no clue” how to run a jail, referring to remarks by corrections expert Susan McCampbell. Gusman said McCampbell’s testimony was “not even worthy of a response.”

“That couldn’t be further from the truth,” Gusman said outside the federal courthouse. “I’m a well-educated, well-experienced person … and here’s somebody coming from the outside.”

The government continued to press its case against Gusman on Friday, seeking to persuade U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to appoint an outside official known as a receiver to manage day-to-day operations at the Orleans Justice Center.

The Justice Department claims that violence is out of control inside the lockup, violating the rights of inmates awaiting trial. Experts have said attacks continue despite the opening in September of a new $150 million inmate housing facility.

Placing the jail in receivership would strip the sheriff of most of his responsibilities without removing him from office.

This week’s proceedings took far longer than expected and will resume June 6 with the Sheriff’s Office calling its first witnesses the following day.

Among those expected to testify o Gusman’s behalf is Donald L. Leach, a retired corrections administrator.

It’s unclear when Africk will rule on the government’s request.

Each side will have the opportunity to submit briefs to the judge following the evidentiary hearing.

The Justice Department has argued that Gusman is not capable of implementing the sweeping jail reforms Africk ordered more than three years ago. Those reforms, spelled out in a federal consent decree, include a host of policy changes, most of which have not been implemented.

Attorneys for the government and the MacArthur Justice Center, a civil rights law firm that represents the city’s inmates, have portrayed the sheriff as incompetent and standing in the way of progress.

McCampbell told the judge this week that she has become frustrated with the lack of progress, describing an agency in disarray that has struggled to hire enough deputies.

Chronic understaffing has prompted the Sheriff’s Office to transfer hundreds of inmates to jails in other parishes.

McCampbell, who was appointed by Africk to monitor the jail reforms, has raised questions about whether the manpower shortage at the Sheriff’s Office has been exacerbated by deputies opting to work more lucrative off-duty security shifts in lieu of regular and overtime shifts at the jail.

The Justice Department amplified those concerns Friday by calling to the witness stand an investigator with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office, which recently released a scathing report on the Sheriff’s Office that prompted federal charges against former Col. Roy Austin, a top-ranking deputy under Gusman. Austin recently pleaded guilty to overbilling businesses for details that deputies had not actually worked.

The investigator, Brent McDougall, described a number of instances in which deputies either improperly took leave to work off-duty details or double-dipped by working the detail while claiming to be clocked in at the Sheriff’s Office. He recommended the Sheriff’s Office reform its off-duty detail program, saying the agency is overwhelmed and often weeks behind in processing requests submitted by deputies to work the private shifts.

On Friday, Africk expressed concern over Gusman’s lack of communication with the city and other governmental agencies.

Blake Arcuri, a Gusman attorney, told the judge that the Sheriff’s Office has had issues receiving information from the New Orleans Police Department about the gang affiliations of suspects booked at the jail.

“So much of the problem that we’re having is the inability of the agencies to work together,” Africk said, alluding to long-standing disputes between Gusman and City Hall over jail funding.

Tyler Gamble, a New Orleans Police Department spokesman, said the Sheriff’s Office has not sent a representative in several months to a regular meeting of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit, a collaboration of local and federal law enforcement agencies.

“If any city has a large partnership of agencies coming together to talk about violence, it’s New Orleans,” Gamble said.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.