Sheriff Gusman testimony slated for early Thursday in bitter prison reform case

April 4, 2013 | John Simerman |

Mayor Mitch Landrieu talks with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman at the groundbreaking ceremony for the intake processing center for Orleans Parish Prison. September 1 2011

Above: Mayor Mitch Landrieu talks with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman at the groundbreaking ceremony for the intake processing center for Orleans Parish Prison.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman now is scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. Thursday to face questions about conditions at the city’s jail facility, and about an explosive video revealed Tuesday that shows one inmate loose on Bourbon Street, and others behind bars drinking beer, unloading a handgun and smoking and injecting drugs.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk announced the change of schedule Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of a hearing to determine approval of a federal consent decree that would govern widespread reforms in the jail facility run by Gusman.

Originally, the sheriff was to take the stand Wednesday, and he showed up to the courthouse. But Africk shifted gears.

The sheriff’s testimony is expected to mark the dramatic high point of a legal battle between Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the three parties who agreed to the jail reform deal in December: Gusman, the feds and inmate advocates for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Under the consent decree, the sheriff would be required under court order to institute various reforms to staffing, suicide prevention efforts, use of force policies, inmate violence reporting and prevention, and mental health care for inmates, among other changes.

Testimony on Wednesday, the third day of the hearing, focused again on conditions at the jail, but Africk also made clear that the question over the cost to the city — which is required by law to fund inmate care — is a matter for a separate hearing in late May.

Africk also dismissed outright a claim by Landrieu that the city was kept in the dark about negotiations over the jail deal.

A large crowd is expected in the courtroom Thursday morning for Gusman’s testimony.Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been hammering at Gusman, in public and in court, to pony up for proposed fixes that could run the city $17 million or more in extra jail costs to bring it up to constitutional muster.

Gusman has argued that Landrieu lacks leadership in paying for needed jail upgrades, but Gusman has not admitted that any conditions at the jail facility are unconstitutional.

The city is expected to press him on that issue.

The case is likely to wrap up Thursday with Gusman’s testimony and closing arguments. Africk has suggested he is likely to approve the consent decree that was signed in December, or something close to it.

Stay tuned to for updates on the case.

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