Nobody has been suspended or placed on desk duty. That was about all a Senate Judiciary Committee could get out of La. State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson during last night’s Senate hearing the Examiner covered at Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO).
Sen. J.P. Morrell, chair of Senate Judiciary Committee B, put-on the hearing and was joined by most of his committee members, along with state Rep. Austin Badon, and Councilman James Gray. No one from the NOPD or the Mayor’s office was there.
Col. Edmonson was invited to explain exactly what eight of his undercover troopers were doing when they were caught on video apparently profiling, then harassing, then slamming two teenagers to the ground in the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. All eight of the troopers were white. The two teenagers, Ferdinand Hunt and Sidney Newman, were black.
Over a hundred citizens and community leaders showed-up to SUNO’s gymnasium to hear Edmonson’s answers. But he only left them with more questions by the time he was done.
Edmonson began his testimony by giving his initial impression of what went down that night. “I viewed the tape,” he said. “I viewed the video, and I immediately called for an investigation. I’m a firm believer that the people have a right to know.”
That he saw enough on that tape to start a formal investigation says a lot about how the troopers handled their business that night. But later, when Rep. Badon asked him about the state of those troopers, Edmonson replied, “They’re doing their normal jobs…they’re in the field.” That answer didn’t sit right with most of the audience or Sen. Morrell.
“I have great concern with it,” Morrell said. He then vowed to hold another hearing once this investigation is done over Col. Edmonson’s decision not to at least place those troopers on desk duty. The crowed applauded that promise, and Sen. Morrell then stressed to Edmonson that it’s important that the community be able to trust law enforcement.
That lack of trust was summarized by Sidney Newman’s mother, Hazel, when she read from her prepared statement. “It’s extremely, extremely saddening and devastating,” she said, “to know that my son and other young African Americans in New Orleans have to have the same fear of the police in 2013 as they did in 1913.”
For his part, Col. Edmonson repeatedly promised that the investigation would be transparent, and that the findings would be released to the public. But Sen. Morrell questioned just how transparent the investigation has actually been. He asked Col. Edmonson about witnesses who say their phone calls weren’t being returned and some who say they had to come out of pocket and pay a notary fee before their statements were officially put on record.
“I’d be horrified,” Col. Edmonson replied, “to tell you that people had to pay to make a statement to the state police. That’s not the case.”
But Danatus King, head of the local NAACP, testified that it is the case and said he has written statements from a number of people who’ve said they had to pay a fee. He was asked to turn-over those statements to the committee, and he promised to do just that.
Sen. Morrell also questioned Col. Edmonson on how long it would take before he had an initial report ready for the public. “I like to do things pretty quickly,” Edmonson said. “I’d like to see things in a 60 day period.” That brought a groan from the crowd, considering that the incident is already 3 weeks old, and they haven’t heard a word yet.
With that in mind, Sen. Morrell stressed to Col. Edmonson again, as he closed-out his testimony, that it was very, very, very important for the public to know that there’s transparency in this case. He then said his committee would hold another hearing when that initial report was released. That seemed to annoy Col. Edmonson a bit, because he immediately responded by saying, “I won’t need the committee to release my findings. Once I get them, I’ll release them.”
In 60 days, he can best believe the public will be waiting, and from the sound of it, so will Sen. Morrell, and his Sen. Judiciary Committee.