- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The judge overseeing a hearing on whether the New Orleans sheriff should be stripped of control of the city’s jail Friday criticized the lack of communication between various government agencies.

“So much of the problem that we’re hearing is the inability of the agencies to work together,” said U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.

Friday was the third day of the hearing. The U.S. Justice Department and inmate lawyers would like to have the jail placed in receivership - a drastic action that would eliminate the chief duty of the elected local sheriff.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman has likened the receivership move to a “coup,” arguing that his progress in complying with 2013 court-approved reform plan is being ignored.

Africk’s comments came during a back-and-forth with a witness and lawyers about whether information about gang affiliation of inmates was properly collected and entered into a database, something that would help jail employees figure out where to house various inmates. Africk faulted the sheriff’s office.

“If I were the sheriff’s office I would be pressing very hard to get those gang affiliations,” the judge said. “I don’t understand that.”

The testimony so far has been from backers of receivership. The hearing will now take a one-week break until June 6, when the plaintiffs are expected to wrap up and the sheriff’s side will present its case.

In previous testimony, experts have cited problems with the mental health treatment, and said jail members lack expertise and “have no clue.”

Inmates were moved from old, decaying jail facilities into a new building last September, something the sheriff touted as a factor in improving conditions. But monitors say violence endangering inmates and staffers continues at the new facility.

The judge Friday also faulted the sheriff’s office for failing to communicate with the monitor’s office about the location of what’s called a step-down mental health unit in the jail - an intermediate mental health facility used to house inmates transitioning from more intensive mental health care to general population. The oversight of inmates with mental health problems has been a key issue in the hearing, following testimony Thursday about an inmate suicide earlier this year.

The judge faulted the sheriff’s office, saying it had failed to communicate the fact that there was such a unit to the mental health expert who testified Thursday.

“That’s absolutely unacceptable,” Africk said.

But the judge did praise the sheriff’s office, saying they have made progress in the classification of inmates - that’s the process by which jails gather information about inmates such as gang affiliations, mental health issues, prior disruptive issues in jail and other factors.

Backers of receivership also presented testimony from a member of the legislative auditor’s office, Brent McDougall. He wrote a March report detailing how the sheriff’s office paid state supplemental pay to 56 non-eligible employees and raising questions about some employees being paid for sheriff’s office work when they were in fact doing off-duty security work.

McDougall said the sheriff’s office has policies to monitor employee requests to do off-duty security work but they’re not being used “effectively.”

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Follow Rebecca Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.

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