Orleans Parish Sheriff Candidate Susan Hutson Discusses Important Issues With Big Easy Ahead of Primary

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As the November 13th primary election for Orleans Parish Sheriff approaches, Big Easy Magazine got the opportunity to sit down with Susan Hutson to find out her takes on the big issues.

BEM: The Marshall project published an article about a man named Farrell Sampier, who died of a neurological condition in Angola that he contracted in OPP from standing in hurricane flood water. What’s your plan, especially with hurricane season coming up, how do we keep inmates safe during these natural disasters?

SH: Yeah. I mean, you got to plan for them. I mean, there’s a there, the city has its emergency system as the police monitor, we stayed, my supervisor stayed to monitor NOPD during storms, major storms, because we never wanted another Katrina issue to go down on lives. You got to watch to make sure they can communicate that the command and accountability is still there, that they’re still holding people accountable and investigating shootings and whatnot. And then the city learned its lesson. And so we got to go to their planning for that. So, you know, the system, web EOC and all that, and just see they’re evacuating people and people with special needs and so on and so forth. And so I heard the mayor say today that, you know, the sheriffs included in that, although I don’t recall seeing the Sheriff’s people at the, at the EOC, but maybe they were there. The key is just having a plan, a hurricane plan every year, asking NOPD for theirs, what’s your plan, what’s your game plan. And you’ve got to drill on it. So people know what they’re doing. I have, deputies contacted me and said, okay, how’s everything going. She said, good today I was told I’m gonna help move people to Angola if there’s a storm. I said, okay, great. So y’all were training on it. You did a drill on it? She said, no, no. They just told me I’m going to go to Angola. You got to do it. Yeah. So that’s not encouraging. And there’s not that many of them there anyways. Cause you know, it’s a revolving door. People just don’t, it’s not safe for them there. And so they, they don’t want to go there. So you gotta have a plan, you gotta practice it, show people what to do and then execute on it when the time comes and it’s all about supervision and leadership.

BEM: There was a case in June where a well path employee was sexually harassed by inmates. She was not being watched by the deputy who said he would be watching her. He was watching television and they surrounded this jail employee. At least in 2018, there were a handful of reports from separate women within the Orleans parish jails alleging sexual harassment of various kinds in a very toxic culture. I want to know how you would go about maybe addressing this sort of work culture because there’s this secondary issue which I want to get to after this is of staffing shortages. The Sheriff’s office has hired people who have come out and said the revolving door on employees here is largely driven by toxic work culture. So it seems like if we want to do the things necessary to reach constitutional requirements, we have to start here.

SH: That’s right. Your employees have to be safe at work. You got to let you get on and make it so that they can take care of their families and leave their families to come to work. Right. You gotta have good benefits and leave and things and I’d love to have a daycare there cause the majority are women. So you want to support them in every way that you can and you know, maternity leave and whatever it may be, you want to support your employees, paternity leave or whatever. You know, you want to support them so they can come to work. And when they come to work, they just do their job. So they’re paid, well, they don’t have to worry about pay or about benefits. Don’t worry about safety. Cause we got protocols in place and training in place. I think they’ll come back when there’s a change in leadership because you know, you will change that culture. So you have to start with investigations, I’ve read these lawsuits I’ve read no investigations internally by the department. What has he done? Other than say, oh, that’s not true. And time after time after time, these lawsuits come out, um, the deputy is still telling me that. I spoke to two sergeants. They’re telling me that, then they’re telling me they’ve also faced retribution when they won’t sleep with people.

BEM: Community groups, like OPPRC, that oppose the Phase III facility have been very clear in that they do not want any new facility, period, do you agree?

SH: I do agree. I’m against phase three. I’m absolutely against that. We need mental health and substance abuse treatment help in this community. The people, you know, the kids that have came of age after Katrina still traumatized. We know that women and ethnic, uh, Institute of women and ethnic studies put that out a few years ago at city council. They know this, these children were traumatized, but even adults were traumatized after Katrina and didn’t get help. Why don’t we have facilities where we can help people? When I was in LA, my younger brother lived with me and schizophrenic and came back from the Navy with issues and so on and so forth, depending on where we live, it depends on whether or not there was help. And in California that was complete help, social workers, places to live, you know, food, all those things for vets and for other non-vets who needed help, they should have the same thing here. That’s what I want now. It runs the gamut and there are people looking at it now St. Charles center for Action and Faith. If they they’re doing some, looking at it and talking to council member Moreno, get OPPRC working on alternative responders.

BEM: The sheriff’s office is also responsible for evictions. Now that President Biden’s eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court, how would you approach evictions?

(Editor’s note: The Orleans First and Second City Courts are primarily responsible for executing evictions and the Orleans Constable is the enforcement arm of the First City Court.)

SH: I think this year there’s an amount limit for the number of evictions that they do. I think the first city court, second city court do a lot of the evictions, and the constables do a lot of the evictions. But you know, if you have a court order, I mean, you have to enforce it. Well, the thing is let’s work with, you know, we’re trying to bring down the amount we need to spend on those jails so we can spend on helping people with their rent. Uh, you know, we want to work with the city to have a support for people because we know that, I mean, you just drive anywhere near Claiborne bridge, see all the people there. Some of them are going to end up at the jail…

BEM: It feels a bit ironic, right?

SH: Right. And, I would love to not follow the court’s order, but I still really don’t know any way to do that. So I would be about helping to find solutions so that we can do something, you know, people’s rent can get paid so that there is affordable housing all over the city. It’s not just a sheriff solution, but I’d be willing to work with people on that.

BEM: Would you be amenable to ICE and any of their requests to do work inside of the parish?

SH: Nope. Not working with them, not sharing information with them. Now, if somebody is arrested on a violent crime and they are bringing them to the jail and there’s a warrant for their arrest and a valid court order, not some kind of, you know, these ICE detainers and whatnot. None of that. Yeah. Not gonna, I’m not gonna, I’m not accepting that and not going to share information with them. And I remember working with NOPD, uh, 2013, 14, and going and meeting with ICE downtown and saying, are you asking NOPD? Cause I heard about an issue at a market where they had NOPD helping them as people came out of the market that looked Latino, engaging them. I said, are you out of your mind, NOPD is in a consent degree, are you doing that? I said, no, no, no, we’d never do that. You got one side of the federal government telling NOPD to shape up their constitutionality. And then the other one telling them to do this. There weren’t a lot of officers who wanted to do that, but there were some who thought it was okay. No, it’s not okay.

BEM: Another concern that’s been raised recently. Court Watch had a report that outlined this. The question of THREADS, the THREADS program with Securus that the jail is in for phone calls. There were some six amendment questions here. The state right now seems like, well, you need to notarize notarized affidavit if you’re an attorney to talk to your client in the jail. And even then they’ll only issue them or approve them if that number that the affidavit’s for is the landline. Attorneys are not getting approved to call clients on cell phones, which has been a major annoyance and a setback to them and impinges on their ability to communicate with their clients in a flexible manner. So as sheriff, would you require notarized affidavits for attorneys?

SH: I don’t understand that. Why are we trying to make it difficult and more work for ourselves? That just doesn’t make sense to me. One of the things I told the public defenders when I met with them was we need to sit down and coordinate these days. I want you to be able to meet your clients. I was a defense attorney been there, done that, didn’t necessarily like go into the jail a lot. So if we can, and video calls will work just fine, or phone calls are just fine. Why, why not set these up? Right? Why don’t we work together to set them up securely? Here are my issues. I need you not to be telling them, you know, where witnesses are or whatever I need you to be. You know, you need to uphold your oath as a lawyer to do the right thing. And, I need safety. So that’s what I need. What do you need? Oh, I need to be able to access my clients more regularly or whatever. We can work that out. We are absolutely not going to record those phone calls. And we are, um, work with them to make sure that they can get to their clients.

BEM: To wrap up, I want to hear what your platform, this dictum of “Care, Custody, Control,” – what do you think separates these three parts and why do they represent your outlook?

SH: Yeah. And I’d even add one more “C” into that and that’s community leadership. So we need, we need all four of those. And so you had to care about people though. What is going on over there? You know, everything that could go wrong and the deal does go wrong. Do you care about your people who work there? Do you care about the people who live there? Do you want them to all to be safe? You just got to care, stop recording them, stop making them pay for parking for their family to come down. Stop making them pay for phone calls. Stop recording attorney-client privilege calls, you know, give proper medical care. I mean, I cannot think of anything worse. You know, I’m a baby when I’m not feeling well. And I eat then. I can go right down the street, you know, but you’re trapped there and you’re not getting the proper care that you need. It’s horrible it’s horrible. So just caring, custody, what does that mean? That means you are responsible. I mean, it’s almost like a, they call it in the law, a strict liability. You are responsible for everything here. This is what we did at LAPD with the detention centers there. People who work there, you are strictly liable for anything that goes on, whether it’s the temperature of the food is improper or you’re dating somebody in the jail, whatever, you know, you have to deal with all that. Were the gang members properly separated. Did they keep the logs, all those things, um, custody, we gotta be precise about that. Everybody has a job to do. You gotta keep your eyes on people. You got to get real close supervision. And that involves a lot of supervision and then controls, financial controls. What are we spending on? You know, I don’t know if you had a chance to look at the, some issues that had come out about contractors, they were contractors for legal services that were making something like 150,000 bucks a month or something like that. This is then 2014, 15. It was something crazy like that. They were making a million plus per year. And when they looked at the invoices, it just said was like, there were no invoices. It was like legal services. It’s all of that. And then the same thing for IT services, just invoices that say IT services. When they asked about it, they said, well, Sheriff’s department said, we, you know, they keep a log of all the stuff they’re doing. It’s like, hey, you’re supposed to keep those logs. And people can see it and be accountable for that. You know, working in the city for the last 11 years, the paperwork’s gotta be there and available for the community to see and the public to see. So that’s what we are going to default to. And then auditing the first thing. One of the first things I want to do is conduct an audit of baseline of what, what are we spending on? What does that money? Where’s money going? Where can we cut it? We’re going to bid better so that we get cut prices, um, save a minimum of 10% on all the stuff that we do. Also look at where where’s all these phones going to, who’s getting the contract so and so forth. So just, and then control over, uh, the entire facility. We have to be in control of what happens, lives, depend on it. And so, um, so that’s what that means to me. And then the community leadership, that’s part of the solutions to everything, right? You’ve got people doing re-entry work, people, you know, JC helped you get a driver’s license, so you can do this or somebody help you get housing and you know, other types of assistance out there, um, substance abuse treatment. So mental health care, social work, you know, our community has these answers. And I do believe in them.

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