The New Orleans Police Department has, of course, faced more than its fair share of complaints about improper use of force over the last few decades. That history is one of many reasons the department is now under a federal consent decree mandating reforms ranging from better investigation of such incidents to flagging of officers who are repeatedly involved in them.
Still, it was something of a surprise when comedian Dave Chappelle, in his Thursday night show at the Saenger Theatre, said almost in passing that he had been choked nearly to death by an NOPD officer two decades ago while filming a movie here.
Chappelle, now 41, mentioned the incident amid broader remarks about police violence against black men, a serious turn in his monologue in which he suggested that it might make more sense to have video cameras trained on grand juries than on police officers — a reference to the recent decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to return indictments against police in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.
Chappelle gave few details about the alleged attack in New Orleans, but as Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis Deberry noted, the timeframe the comedian described dovetails with his appearance in the New Orleans-shot 1993 film “Undercover Blues.”
Chappelle told the Saenger audience that he was aware of the NOPD’s spotty reputation at the time and suggested he was hardly surprised when he found himself in a chokehold. “OK, here we go,” Chappelle said he remembered thinking.
Tammany also-ran returns to public gig
Slidell lawyer Alan Black, who lost his bid for district attorney in November, is returning to a public job he had given up when he decided to run: administrative hearing officer for St. Tammany Parish.
But the circumstances of his departure and return raised some questions recently, with critics wondering whether he could, in fact, return to the job.
A parish ordinance says the hearing officer “cannot have been employed by, nor been the legal representative of, nor done business with the parish or any of its departments or agencies within two years of employment as a hearing officer.”
Black told The New Orleans Advocate in late October that he had resigned from the position, which paid him $4,000 per month; some wondered if that meant he would need to sit out for two years.
But the letter that Black sent to Parish President Pat Brister on Aug. 6 said he was taking a leave of absence from his appointment, effective Aug. 21, and did not use the word “resign.”
Ronnie Simpson, a spokesman for Brister, said that not only did Black never resign, he never was an employee of the parish in the first place. Rather, he has had a professional services agreement with the parish.
“This agreement specifically states that Mr. Black is an independent contractor and not an employee of the parish,” Simpson said in an email. Black is paid by invoices, not payroll, and doesn’t receive benefits, Simpson said.
“It is also important to note that neither Mr. Black nor the parish has terminated his current professional services agreement pursuant to its terms, and his appointment from the parish has never been revoked. Rather, Mr. Black requested a short leave of absence from his position,” Simpson said.
Last week, the St. Tammany Parish Council removed an item from its December agenda reappointing Black, deciding the issue was moot.
Tulane law provost joins civil service board
Tulane Law School Associate Provost Tania Tetlow will replace Loyola University’s president, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, on the New Orleans Civil Service Commission.
Wildes resigned from the commission last month, citing the “increasing demands” of his job. He had served on the commission since September 2011.
Tetlow, like Wildes, was nominated to the commission by Tulane University. Her appointment was unanimously confirmed by the City Council on Thursday. Tetlow, a former federal prosecutor, is the Felder-Fayard early career associate professor at Tulane Law School and associate provost for international affairs for the university.
The five members of the Civil Service Commission serve overlapping six-year terms. The other members are Michelle Craig, Rabbi Edward Cohn, Joseph S. Clark and Ronald McClain.
The board recently passed Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s “Great Place to Work Initiative,” an overhaul of the city’s civil service system, and advocated for a 20 percent pay raise for police.
Changes in works at N.O. ethics board
The city’s Ethics Review Board, which oversees the Office of Inspector General, is also coming in for some changes.
The agency’s chief administrator, Felicia Brown, and its general counsel, Steve Scheckman, have both announced they’re stepping down effective Dec. 31, according to Michael Cowan, who chairs the board.
Scheckman said he is leaving so he can devote himself full time to his private practice. Originally a full-time employee of the board, Scheckman had gradually ramped down his hours and lately has been spending roughly one-quarter of his time on work for the board, he said.
Scheckman was earning about $37,000 a year, Cowan said, while Brown, a full-time employee, was earning $77,000.
Brown did not return an email seeking comment about why she left.
Cowan said the board is going to discuss how best to replace the pair. Rather than hiring two new employees, he said, the board may consider contracting for part-time legal services to replace Scheckman.
Brown, he said, handled administrative duties as well as ethics training for city employees, elected officials and members of boards and commissions. As a cost-saving measure, the board will consider hiring an administrative assistant and contracting out for the training, Cowan said, although that decision has not been made.
Mitch Landrieu pens CNN op-ed
Mayor Mitch Landrieu this week published an op-ed column on CNN’s website in which he explains that the city’s top priority remains reducing its horrific murder rate.
The column is the second in a series of five CNN commissioned from mayors who received “innovation grants” from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The first was by Memphis, Tennessee, Mayor AC Wharton; the website also solicited columns from Louisville, Kentucky’s Greg Fischer, Atlanta’s Kasim Reed and Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel.
The Landrieu administration received a $3.7 million innovation grant from Bloomberg in 2011, and the first task the team took on was to try to come up with new ways of preventing murders, Landrieu writes.
In the piece, the mayor says most New Orleans murders are the result of petty disputes, and he touts the city’s progress in reducing the rate from 2012. But he acknowledges there is still a long way to go and says the city is turning its attention toward the problem of chronic unemployment of black men.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on Dec. 18 to correct Tania Tetlow’s title.
Compiled by staff writers Gordon Russell, Sara Pagones and Jaquetta White