On June 24th, the day Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced to The Advocate that he had quietly disbanded his controversial and likely unconstitutional Violent Crime Task Force, I filed the following public records request to the Louisiana Department of Justice:
June 24, 2017
Louisiana Department of Justice
PO Box 94005
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70804
To Whom It May Concern:
Pursuant to La. Rev. Stat. Ann. 44:31, I am writing to request copies of all documentation in the possession and/or the maintenance of the Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry regarding the decision to “disband” or suspend the operations of the Violent Crime Task Force established on or around July of 2016 to augment law enforcement in the city of New Orleans. I request all relevant records regarding the timing of this decision and any and all legal memoranda upon which the Attorney General relied in making this decision.
In addition, I request records concerning the employment status of the fifteen (15) “special agents” assigned to the task force, including both the individual and aggregate compensation provided to these agents during the course of their tenure with the Violent Crime Task Force.
I also request any and all records regarding the total financial expenditure incurred by the Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry in both the creation and the operation of the Violent Crime Task Force, including but not limited to expenses paid to third-party communications or media consultants, lawyers or law firms, and any other political subdivision or agency of the federal, state, parish, or city government.
Based on information and belief, these records should be easily and readily obtainable, and these records are not subject to any statutory exemptions. Based on information and belief, these records are not and cannot be protected by a deliberative process exemption, as they all are now considered “post-decisional.”
As you know, the right to access public records is fundamental. See: La. Const. art. XII, § 3.
Louisiana law does not require the requestor to disclose the nature or the intention of the request.
If this request is denied, the state has the burden of proving the justification for denial.
This request is not vague, overly broad, or unreasonably burdensome.
The cost of reproduction should be minimal. I do not require physical copies of these records; electronic copies are sufficient to meet this request. If the cost of production exceeds $500, please advise.
Per Louisiana law, if this request is denied for any reason, I must be notified no later than Wednesday, June 28, 2017.
All the best,
Lamar White, Jr
The request, I thought, was pretty straightforward and rather pedestrian. For those of you unfamiliar, a year ago, Jeff Landry announced the creation of a special unit of his department, which he called the Violent Crime Task Force, and he charged it specifically with tackling crime in the City of New Orleans. It was a high-profile initiative. Landry repeatedly promoted his efforts online and in the media.
The Task Force was immediately controversial. First and perhaps most importantly, Jeff Landry, as the state’s Attorney General, does not have the statutory authority to direct or oversee a law enforcement agency, and most, if not all, of the so-called “special agents” he assigned to the task force lacked the jurisdictional authority to make arrests in New Orleans. It was, to put it mildly, nothing more than a shameless publicity stunt intended to undermine the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, a fact that became crystal clear once Landry reported on its efforts. The Violent Crime Task Force had not solved or arrested anyone accused of a violent crime. Instead, for the most part, his agents were arresting people in the French Quarter for smoking marijuana, which is a civil penalty under New Orleans city ordinance and a criminal misdemeanor under state law.
Only July 12th, Luke Donovan, an assistant Attorney General, responded to my request. It’s worth a read and then a re-read. If you prefer, you can download the document here.
The Louisiana Department of Justice is asserting, presumably with a straight face, that the only expenses it incurred as a result of launching and operating the Violent Crimes Task Force were used to purchase monogrammed t-shirts. That’s it.
They are also asserting, presumably with a straight face, that the Attorney General of Louisiana has no documentation at all that relates to the decision to disband this task force, which, to me, underscores the idea that this man never cared about the law in the first place. They searched diligently too!
That said, what is most egregious about this response is the attempt to conflate my second request for records with my third request. Even if the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot provide employment expenses for officers on assignment from other agencies, the third request is crystal clear: “I also request any and all records regarding the total financial expenditure incurred by the Office of Attorney General Jeff Landry in both the creation and the operation of the Violent Crime Task Force….,” a request that inherently includes any and all expenditures and compensation paid to “LBI agents employed by the LADOJ.”
I will send Mr. Donovan a clarification, inform him that his interpretation was in error, and ask how I can possibly purchase one of those t-shirts.