by Jo Ellen Nott
On Sunday, August 14, 2022, barely one hundred days into her tenure as New Orleans Parish Sheriff, Susan Hutson was confronted with a prisoner takeover of a cellblock in the parish lockup, resulting in a call to the Special Response Team (SRT) from the state Department Public Safety and Corrections.
The standoff in Block 2E of the Orleans Justice Center began on August 12, 2022, after Hutson said she could not grant prisoners their principal demand, which was more out-of-cell time. On the Monday after the disturbance, she testified to the City Council Criminal Justice Committee, “…they want to be out from the morning to 10:30 at night which is not do-able with the staff we have.”
Why not? In the weeks preceding the riot, the “daily staff duty lineup” showed that only 33 of 72 guard positions were manned, and the entire Sheriff’s Department had only 173 deputies employed out of 324 positions. While the jail can fulfill other demands the prisoners made, such as more books, more photographs from family and an additional television, the one demand Hutson said she could not safely accommodate was more time out-of-cell time.
Hutson campaigned on progressive policies inside the jail but has been unable to find solutions to chronic staff shortages because of low pay and difficult working conditions. While she said calling in SRT to put down the uprising was a step she had tried to avoid, her critics questioned why she allowed negotiations to stretch so long – from Friday to Sunday – until the prisoners damaged the sprinkler system and flooded the pod.
Hutson is also facing use-of-force complaints from prisoners when the riot was quelled. The new sheriff claimed that SRT was able to execute the raid without causing major injuries to detainees, only five of whom were sent to the hospital – with minor cuts and bruises, the sheriff said – out of more than 40 barricaded inside the unit.
Prisoners interviewed by New Orleans independent news outlet The Lens said SRT agents shot them with beanbag rounds and rubber bullets even though they had visibly complied with orders to surrender, lying on the floor or keeping their hands in the air. One suffered several broken ribs and two collapsed lungs, another a fractured left arm from his elbow to the wrist and yet another a snapped arm that required surgery.
The Lens requested any use-of-force reports related to the raid, along with body camera and security footage. But as of September 2, 2022, those had not been provided. Even less was known about a shakedown at the jail the following week, which also resulted in detainee injuries, the news site said.
Sources: The Lens, Times-Picayune, WWL
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