Over 1,000 sex crimes remain uninvestigated

Alex Kennon

New Orleans Police Department  is under fire after a report by the city’s inspector general revealed that over 1,000 sex crimes had not been properly investigated.

The report focused on five detectives in the special victims unit who failed to adequately investigate and document the majority of sexual assault and child abuse cases they were assigned over the course of a three-year period.

The investigation of these officers came as the result of a May 2014 audit performed by the Office of Inspector General’s Audit Division. Howard Shwartz, assistant inspector general for investigations, said he conducted a detailed investigation of the five detectives after reviewing the 90 random rape cases that were pulled for the audit.

“I reviewed those 90 completely random rape cases, and in those, I found a number of things that were disturbing, to say the least,” Shwartz said. “We went on and looked at 100 percent of their work because if I found these things in the random selection, what were we going to find if we did a complete review of everything they did?”

The answer was an inordinate amount of deficient detective work. According to the report released last Wednesday, NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau identified 1,290 sex crime related calls that were assigned to the five detectives over the course of a three-year period. Of those cases only 179, or 14 percent, contained any supplemental reports documenting investigative efforts beyond the brief initial report.

No reports at all were written in 840 of the cases, which detectives simply classified as miscellaneous.

In 271 cases that were designated as potential sex crimes, the five detectives either failed to provide documentation of investigative efforts or provided questionable documentation.

NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison has designated Commander Paul Noel to head a task force to review these 271 mishandled cases. Schwartz said that NOPD has asked him to do a follow up on this work to ensure the public that an independent investigator finds it satisfactory.

“It’s kind of unusual, but by asking me to do that, it says to me that they really are going to do it right,” Schwartz said. “Because I’m going to do the same thing I did, and if the work’s not there, I’ll do the same report and we’ll be in the same spot.”

The Inspector General Report did not identify the detectives by name, referring to them only as Detectives A, B, C, D and E. NOPD later identified them as Akron Davis, Merrell Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Haynes.

All of the accused detectives remain on the force, though according to NOPD, all five have been placed on desk duty.

Ed Quatrevaux, New Orleans inspector general, said that NOPD needs to take the necessary steps to remedy these problems in the future.

“They need to establish management review processes and controls that will ensure detectives’ work is performed and performed correctly,” Quatrevaux said.

Ronal Serpas, who was the NOPD Superintendent during the three years that were investigated and recently hired to teach Criminal Justice at Loyola, said he directed the department to work closely with the Office of Inspector General following the incriminating May audit.

“If proven true, these five detectives and their supervisors have no place in the department,” Serpas said.

Current NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said the internal investigation into these detectives’ work will be thorough and transparent, and that depending on the results, they may face criminal charges.

“The fact that we have a sworn duty to provide a police service to citizens that we knowingly and willingly failed to do could be a criminal violation as well,” Harrison said in a press conference.

According to WWL, the District Attorney’s office intends to look into the matter.

Schwartz said this could be problematic because the DA’s Chief Investigator Kirk Bouyelas was the NOPD deputy chief in charge of sex crimes during the three years investigated by the Inspector General.

“I think it’s a legitimate concern that the same guy in the position as deputy chief over this for years and not recognizing it is now at the DA’s office,” Schwartz said. “If he needs to rescue himself from that, or separate himself from these investigations, I’m sure they’ll handle that properly.”

Whether or not criminal charges are pursued, the Inspector General notes that more affective leadership is necessary to break a cycle of negligence and corruption.

“It is a matter of culture.  Leadership is needed to change a culture where not doing your job is acceptable,” Quatrevaux said.