N.O. tops cities with highest murder rate

New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley answers questions at a news conference in New Orleans, Tuesday, June 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

Former Police Superintendent Warren Riley apparently had good reason to think his appointment to head public-safety efforts under Mayor LaToya Cantrell was a done deal.

After all, he signed all the paperwork needed to rejoin city government days before the then-mayor-elect announced she was "pressing pause" on the appointment because of public backlash over police abuses and killings during Riley's tenure with the New Orleans Police Department.

Riley filled out 23 pages of employment documents on April 30 in preparation for the announcement that he would become Cantrell's director of homeland security and public safety, overseeing police, fire and disaster response for her administration.

About 48 hours later, though, Cantrell cited an "uptick" in community concern as reason for giving the matter further thought.

The New Orleans Advocate received redacted copies of Riley's paperwork through a public records request. 

Beau Tidwell, Cantrell's communications director, said in an email that the administration never processed the paperwork and that Riley's employment status is considered to be "on hold." The former police chief has not received any pay or benefits from the city for the new position.

No decision has been made about whether Riley will in fact be hired, Tidwell said. "The mayor is still in the process of making that decision and has not determined how or if she’s going to move forward," he said.

The documents show Riley was continuing to move through the hiring process at City Hall even though a furor had been growing over his possible appointment since the week before.

The forms include the typical paperwork an employee would sign before joining city government, including acknowledgements of city policies, benefits paperwork and certifications that Riley is a U.S. citizen and has a home in Orleans Parish.

Beyond the fact that he was preparing to take the job, the documents — which were heavily redacted — shed little additional light on his proposed duties, salary or other aspects of his employment.

Riley did not respond to a phone call Monday.

According to his employment paperwork, he expected to leave his position as a federal coordinating officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency this month. The federal agency has not responded to a public records request from The Advocate seeking information about Riley's employment there.

Cantrell's confirmation that Riley was a leading contender for a top spot in her administration shocked many community activists and NOPD critics. 

Riley was the department's chief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and is widely blamed for failing to address the police violence that followed the storm, particularly the killing of two civilians and the wounding of four others on the Danziger Bridge and the subsequent cover-up of what happened.

Riley has admitted he never read the department's report on the incident — a key part of the cover-up — though he said he had been briefed about it.

Families of the victims of the violence, civil rights groups and groups opposed to police corruption all have spoken out against the possibility he could return to a prominent position that would put him above NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.

A day after Riley's paperwork was filled out, Cantrell met with the family of one of the people killed by police following Katrina. She told The New Orleans Advocate last week that the meeting caused her to reconsider the appointment.

“I needed to do that to listen to how they were feeling. And the pain, there’s still a lot of pain there, and it’s real,” Cantrell said. “But I also needed to listen to the other side — and that includes Mr. Riley. So I’m working through that right now.”

The administration has not set a timeline for a final decision. However, Tidwell said, "this is something the mayor would like to wrap up sooner rather than later."  

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​