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Nearly three dozen local faith-based, civic and political leaders came together Tuesday morning in front of the Orleans Justice Center to voice their support for embattled Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman as he heads to court in just days for a hearing on the petition filed by the U.S. Justice Department to put the parish jail under federal receivership, removing Gusman from the day-to-day operation of the jail.
Gusman has been under fire recently, taking criticism over his management of the jail and what has been deemed by some as slow pace of implementing the federal consent decree that the parish prison is under. He has, however, vigorously defended his recorded, launching his own community outreach campaign throughout the city to talk about signs of progress such as significant reduction in the inmate population, the completion of the new, more modern jail facility, and what he views as positive steps forward in complying with the consent decree, along with challenges—chief of which has been a persistent battle with the City of New Orleans to get the budget Gusman says he needs to adequately fund the jail and to keep, train and retain staff.
In the meantime, Gusman has reorganized his top administration, beginning with the return of Carmen DeSadier as the chief of corrections. He also appointed Mike Laughlin as the new chief of investigations and has plans to hire a chief financial officer. It’s a move the sheriff contends will assist the office in making continued progress.
Dr. C.S. Gordon, pastor of New Zion Baptist Church, spoke on behalf of the group that rallied in support of the sheriff. Later, Rev. Dr. Dwight Webster of Christian Unity Baptist Church fielded questions from the media.
“We’ve come together to demonstrate our support for Sheriff Marlin Gusman as he continues to move the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office in a positive direction,” Gordon said. “Members of the Interdenominational Denominational Alliance, the Urban League and elected officials who have gathered here today have come to say that Rome was not built in day. And this process cannot be completed in a day or even a few months. It is our belief that sheriff Gusman is doing a great join, and we say let the progress continue.”
Gusman recently hosted a group a local religious leaders at the new jail for a tour and to talk about his progress as well as the challenges he believes his office faces.
Supporters gathered Tuesday say the calls for receivership are an affront to the voters of Orleans Parish who have elected Gusman and re-elected him twice.
“We do not want the will of the people to be undermined,” Webster said. “They returned this official to office. He was duly elected in a properly conducted election. When his term is over then the populace can speak again if they choose.”
In addition to local pastors, current and former elected officials were among those gathered Tuesday morning, including Orleans Parish Assessor Erroll Williams, First City Court Constable Lambert Bossiere Jr., Public Service Commissioner Lambert Bossiere III and former city councilwoman Cynthia Willard Lewis.
With an evidentiary set for May 25 in federal court, the group also plans to rally and pray at 9 a.m. each day Wednesday, May 25 through Friday, May 27 in front of the federal courthouse at Camp and Poydras streets in support of Sheriff Gusman.
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