Independent Police Monitor Report Details Police Corruption in Batiste/Banks Confrontation

“NOPD” by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Shaun Ferguson needs to be fired,” said community activist Belden Batiste after he read a newly released public report by the  Office of Independent Police Monitor (OIPM) Stella Cziment which was highly critical of the NOPD’s actions during and after the heated exchange between former Councilmember Jay Banks and Batiste in February 2021. Cziment became involved in this case after Batiste, a Flag Boy with the Yellow Pocahontas tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, made a complaint of officer misconduct. Batiste is also chairing a petition drive to recall Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

In an 18-page report, the OIPM identified numerous instances where NOPD officials repeatedly attempted to intimidate Batiste, provided preferential treatment to Banks, produced inconsistent reports with multiple errors, omissions and contradictory statements, and covered up conflicts of interest by failing to thoroughly and properly investigate Batiste’s many well-founded allegations. In fact the OIPM questioned whether Batiste’s conduct on that February day even merited police action. Based on transcripts from interviews with Banks and his staff, the OIPM suggested that contradictions from those interviews “should cast doubt” on the initial allegations against Batiste and “at the very least” reflect on Banks’ credibility in the misconduct investigation.

The OIPM concluded that two NOPD officers involved in the Batiste/Banks investigation were found to have violated the NOPD’s rules of professional conduct.  The agency also made several recommendations including formal retraining on how to write reports and new NOPD protocols. It further suggested that when an investigation involved political leaders and alleged NOPD misconduct, an outside agency like the OIPM may be “better suited” to conduct this type of investigation.

“When you fight for justice it comes,” said Batiste. “Plain and simple, the New Orleans Police Department gave Jay Banks preferential treatment because he is close to Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Our NOPD cannot be trusted. Their conduct was disgraceful and unacceptable. My civil rights were violated. Jay Banks lied. I never threatened him.  Yet the NOPD chose to bully and intimidate me. They tried to humiliate me. The system should not treat citizens the way it treated me. If this kind of corruption happened to me, how many other Black men who couldn’t fight for themselves have been abused the same way? I’ve had many sleepless night over this but now I can rest.”

In 2021 Batiste and former State Senator Karen Carter Peterson were among the candidates running for Congress to replace Cedric Richmond. At a forum sponsored by the Alliance for Good Government, Batiste “sharply criticized” Peterson, an ally of Councilmember Jay Banks and fellow member of the BOLD political organization. Several days later, Batiste called Banks’ office to complain about a Sewerage and Water Board issue. Accompanied by his armed driver, Bernard “Bunny” Newell, Banks made a surprise visit to Batiste’s 7th Ward home. According to Batiste, Newell patted his gun throughout the visit. It is not known if Newell had a license to carry the weapon. A verbal confrontation ensued.

Batiste said he felt scared and angry and that Banks made threats against his life. Banks, currently a member of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s senior staff, claimed that he only went to Batiste’s home to help someone in crisis.

Batiste then dialed 911 for assistance. Somehow the call was not recorded by Orleans Parish Communications District operators. Nevertheless, NOPD Sgt. Alfred Russell arrived and conducted the initial response and also interviewed witness Mrs. Adrian Batiste, Belden’s mother.

Russell failed to provide Batiste with an item number slip or any documentation so that Batiste could obtain a police report. Russell had taken notes during the call for service on what could be considered a piece of scrap paper. Russell said he did not have any item number forms with him but that he or someone else would come back with the item number.

Summons were subsequently issued for both Banks and Batiste which required them to appear in Municipal Court at a future date. Banks was charged with one count of disturbing the peace and one count of threats. Batiste was charged with threatening Banks. Banks made comments about Batiste’s mental health, which Batiste considers a violation of federal HIPAA privacy rules. Batiste is physically disabled because of blood clots. Batiste also said he heard about talk at the Zulu Club that Banks influenced the NOPD to have Batiste charged with a crime. Banks was elected Zulu King in 2016. As a member of the City Council at the time of the incident, Banks also had some authority over the NOPD’s annual budget.

Banks received his summons at NOPD’s 1st District Station“peacefully and quietly” from two officers including Sgt. Russell. When Banks received his summons, a summons for Batiste had not been contemplated, according to the OIPM report. Banks suggested to Sgt. Russell that Batiste should be charged. Later that afternoon five ranking officers (a district captain , two lieutenants and two sergeants) along with another officer in a squad car down the street, arrived at Batiste’s residence with his summons. Batiste refused to accept the summons without his attorney present but went the next day to the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB) where he picked up the document and filed a formal complaint. Also that day, an unsigned and unapproved copy of Batiste’s police report mysteriously arrived in his mailbox.

Capt. Nicholas Gernon investigated the allegation of the unapproved and unsigned police report but failed to identify the participation of any officers in the breech of policy. Gernon also initiated the investigation into Batiste’s officer conduct complaint and assigned the complaint to Sgt. Daniels to complete the investigation. The OIPM found that Gernon relied on leading questions when interviewing the accused officers. Gernon also failed to get the unauthorized police report back from Batiste. Sgt. Daniels was cited for not gathering all the relevant information needed for the investigation. The OIPM report indicated that the NOPD failed to investigate all of Batiste’s allegations and failed to interview all potential witnesses regarding misconduct and political influence.

The report also pointed out that the NOPD should revisit regarding allegations of intimidation. A civilian can perceive they are being intimidated by a police officer even though the intent of an officer might differ and there for require two different types of analysis. “One analysis asks if the police action was intentional, while the other analysis reflects on how an action may be perceived or appear to others – particularly civilians engaging with officers.”

The report concluded that Gernon should have also considered the appearance and the perception that could be created by seeing a group of officers, including several in leadership positions, showing up at a house unannounced to serve a summons for a minor offense, especially when the initial complaint was made by an elected official. OIPM also suggested that policies regarding bias free policing were overlooked as Banks received better treatment that Batiste and whether “Bank’s political status had any influence over the involved officers.”

An independent branch of city government, the Independent Police Monitor (IPM) provides oversight and transparent assessments of the NOPD’s work, progress and obstacles per a Memorandum of Understanding inked in 2010. This report is thought to be among Monitor Cziment’s first major reports since becoming IPM after Susan Hutson resigned to run for Sheriff.

Batiste plans on reaching out to several federal agencies and is also considering civil litigation in this matter. It is unclear if Banks ever appeared at Municipal Court. A bench warrant had been issued in his name. It is also possible that the NOPD’s federal monitors and the Court could look at the OIPM’s report as further justification for why the NOPD Consent Decree should continue.

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