A New Orleans judge on Tuesday granted a defense lawyer’s request to issue subpoenas to Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other officials for records about whether and how the city used controversial crime-fighting software from a company called Palantir to investigate Central City’s 3NG street gang.
Landrieu, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, Sheriff Marlin Gusman and former city crime analyst Jeff Asher will all be on the receiving end of subpoenas for information about Palantir under the order from Criminal District Court Judge Camille Buras.
Kevin Vogeltanz, an attorney for convicted gang leader Kentrell Hickerson, is looking into whether Palantir's software, known as Gotham, was used to build the case against him or any of his co-defendants. If the software was used against the gang, that information should have been turned over to the defense before their trial, Vogeltanz argues.
Hickerson is serving a 100-year sentence. He asked for the subpoenas as part of a pending motion for a new trial.
Authorities say Gotham was used to draw connections among suspected gang members and to link previously separate law enforcement databases. However, they deny that it was ever used to predict when and where crimes might occur. The city says it stopped using the program when its contract with Palantir expired in February.
Landrieu was subpoenaed because the Mayor’s Office crafted the city’s contract with Palantir and employed Asher, the lead analyst who actually used the program. Gusman, Harrison and Cannizzaro were members of the city's Multi-Agency Gang Unit, which built the case against the 3NG gang.
The judge's decision was almost an automatic one under the state law on subpoenas, although Assistant District Attorney Alex Calenda objected, calling the request “vague” and asking for more time to respond.
However, all five officials targeted in the subpoenas will have the opportunity to challenge them in court, Buras said.
State prosecutors charged Hickerson and 19 other people with membership in 3NG in a sweeping indictment in 2013. He was convicted of racketeering and drug conspiracy counts two years ago.
Hickerson has been challenging that conviction ever since. He claims that the state failed to turn over crucial evidence before his trial, including the use of Gotham.
An article on the online news site The Verge in February detailed the Police Department’s use of Palantir technology to build gang cases. However, it remains unclear whether Palantir was used specifically against Hickerson and his cohorts in 3NG.
Vogeltanz argued at the trial and afterward that 3NG was nothing like the cohesive gang that prosecutors alleged. He now says that even if the software failed to show links between Hickerson and other alleged gang members, that would have buttressed the defense's case at trial.
Vogeltanz is seeking any documents, spreadsheets, graphs or charts that were created using Palantir's software during the 3NG investigation, as well as the program’s user guide.