Update: According to a report published by The Advocate tonight, June 24, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Landry “quietly” disbanded his special task force, though it is not clear when he made the decision or whether the fifteen special agents he hired are still on the public payroll.
On Tuesday, June 13th, U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan voiced concern that Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has exceeded his legal authority by empowering “special agents” to make arrests in New Orleans, according to a court transcript obtained exclusively by The Bayou Brief.
Morgan, who oversees compliance with the consent decree between the city of New Orleans and the U.S. Department of Justice, fully agreed with New Orleans City Attorney Rebecca Dietz, who argued that Landry’s agents have no constitutional or statutory authority to act as law enforcement officers.
Morgan also revealed Landry’s office has refused to provide legal justification for the arrests made by his office, after more than seven months of repeated requests from the court. The Attorney General’s “representatives were unable to provide me any authority for some of these activities,” Morgan said, “I said, ‘Well, why don’t you, if you want to go back and think about this and do some more research, write me and tell me the authority that you have that supports your activities.'”
“That was in January, and I have not received anything else from them to date,” she said.
“Under state law, the division of state police is tasked with state law enforcement responsibilities and that division falls within the department of public safety under the governor,” Dietz told the court. Landry, she pointed out, has legal authority to make investigations, but not arrests.
Landry first announced the creation of a “Violent Crime Task Force” on July 1, 2016, ostensibly to assist New Orleans-area law enforcement officers during special events.
In January, Landry boasted his task force had arrested eleven people, all of whom were booked on drug-related offenses. Only two were charged with additional crimes. None of the arrests involved violent crimes, and three of those arrested were charged with simple possession of marijuana. The NOPD, who have the main authority for policing the city, typically does not arrest anyone possessing less than 2.5 pounds, per a 2016 city ordinance.
“It’s important that the policing is done by entities with the authority to do the policing for a number of reasons; for example, for the arrest to be valid and for any seizure of evidence to be constitutional,” Judge Morgan stated. “So these questions have real-life ramifications in the criminal justice system. It’s not a technicality. It’s very important.”
Landry’s controversial initiative won support from Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman and District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, both of whom are outspoken critics of Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Two months ago, Charles Maldonado of The Lens revealed Cannizzaro’s office had frequently used fake subpoenas to pressure witnesses into testifying, leading to widespread calls for Cannizzaro’s recall or resignation.
Landry, a former Congressman, once served as a sheriff’s deputy in St. Martin Parish, during which time his roommate, a fellow deputy, was arrested for stashing more than $10,000 worth of cocaine underneath the home they shared. Shortly after being elected Attorney General, Landry hired GOP mega-donor Shane Guidry, the owner of a maritime transportation company, as his special assistant. Guidry, who is paid $12,000 a year, claims to be responsible for overseeing the division’s “criminal investigations unit.”
Both Judge Morgan and City Attorney Dietz underscored support for Landry’s cooperation with crime prevention efforts and investigations, provided he complies with the law. “It’s clear to me that the AG’s office has limited statutory authority to investigate crimes in certain areas,” Morgan said. “but it doesn’t have the ability to make statewide arrests for violations of state law.
“I will continue to do what I need to do to make sure that the integrity of the policing in the city of New Orleans is maintained,” she concluded. “By that I mean that only entities with authority to make arrests do that, but I also want to make clear I echo what Ms. Dietz said. There are many areas where the AG’s office has expertise and we welcome their assistance, particularly with investigating homicides, because we all know that that’s a concern and an area of emphasis for us right now.”