The highly combative relationship between two New Orleans watchdogs, which once seemed headed toward a legislative “divorce,” has now erupted into open political warfare after Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux recommended the firing of Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson.
Quatrevaux’s push to terminate Hutson, which her attorney Ron Wilson confirmed came in a letter dated Thursday, would need to be approved by the city’s Ethics Review Board after a public hearing. That could set off a contentious discussion, with strong racial overtones, over the police monitor’s appropriate level of independence.
“I’ve read the letter. There’s nothing fresh, nothing new,” Wilson said. “The allegations are baseless.”
Quatrevaux hired Hutson in 2010, but in the years since then the two officials have clashed repeatedly over how autonomous the independent police monitor is. Under a City Charter amendment approved by voters in 2008, the police monitor reports to the IG’s Office, but the extent of Quatrevaux’s control over the woman he hired has been a matter of continual dispute.
Quatrevaux left the office early Friday and did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Suzanne Wisdom, a lawyer in his office, said it would be inappropriate for the office to discuss an ongoing “personnel matter.”
Hutson declined to comment.
“We think it’s sort of retaliatory. She’s been asking for a separation,” Wilson said. “She intends to defend against the allegations.”
Under the charter, Hutson can be fired only by a majority vote of the Ethics Review Board. A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 23.
Quatrevaux’s recommendation could create a political dilemma for that board, which was criticized by lawyer and longtime ethics advocate David Marcello in July for a lack of gender and ethnic diversity.
Last year, Hutson, an African-American woman, alleged that Quatrevaux, a white man, had created a hostile work environment for her. The board voted 6-0 in December to dismiss that claim.
After that issue was settled, the two parties moved toward crafting a charter amendment that would have fully separated them.
The sticking point, both sides said, was how much money each office would get from the city budget after the political divorce. At present, the IG’s Office gets a specified percentage of the city’s annual operating budget, and Quatrevaux decides how much of that to allocate to the monitor’s office.
Michael Cowan, the chairman of the Ethics Review Board, declined to make Quatrevaux’s letter public or comment on the situation Friday.
But Wilson said Quatrevaux listed at least three causes for firing Hutson in his letter.
One was a report Hutson recently issued on the New Orleans Police Department’s investigation into the killing of Wendell Allen, which Hutson did not submit to Quatrevaux for approval.
Hutson has long maintained that under the terms of a memorandum of understanding between the two offices, she is required only to give Quatrevaux advance notice of public reports, not to submit them for his approval.
“He does not like her independence,” Wilson said. “Her position is, ‘I’m here to do a job.’ His position is, ‘Everything she does requires my approval.’ ”
Another issue cited by Quatrevaux, Wilson said, was the monitor office’s decision to release the video of a fired NOPD officer striking a 16-year-old inmate with shackles. A source outside of the monitor’s office with knowledge of the situation said that U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing the NOPD’s reform agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, was upset that the video was released without her approval.
Quatrevaux believes he is the custodian of records for Hutson’s office, meaning that only he could decide whether to release public documents such as the video, according to Wilson.
Hutson refused to agree to a deal whereby she would not release public records, Wilson said.
“Susan said, ‘I can’t agree to that.’ She said, ‘I’m not going to agree to violate the law,’ ” Wilson said.
Another issue cited in Quatrevaux’s letter, Wilson said, involved a claim of “unethical conduct” relating to comments Hutson made on television in 2013 regarding complaints that police officers were downgrading crimes in the French Quarter to make them appear less serious.
According to Wilson, Quatrevaux said Hutson greatly exaggerated the number of complaints by saying there had been “dozens.”
“We’re talking about something that happened in 2013,” Wilson added.