NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Joseph I. Giarrusso, a segregation-era New Orleans police chief who later became the city’s premier populist politician among blacks and whites, has died after a long illness. He was 82.
Mr. Giarrusso, who died Dec. 21, ended four decades of public service in 1997 when he resigned a mostly ceremonial post coordinating the city’s criminal justice agencies under Mayor Marc Morial. But during his day, Mr. Giarrusso was considered a power broker in New Orleans politics.
He once carried a shotgun into City Hall in 1979 to dramatize his call for a better-armed police force. And in 1985, he knocked former state Sen. Hank Braden, an adviser to then-Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, to the floor of Ruth’s Chris Steak House with a single punch.
Perhaps the defining aspect of his long career was his success in shedding the Jim Crow image fashioned during his term as police superintendent from 1960 to 1970, and evolving into a fierce defender of the city’s working class as an at-large City Council member from 1976 to 1994.
His friends and family said he fought to live down one of the darkest moments in his tenure as police chief, when officers in the 1960s expelled black protesters from a whites-only cafeteria in the City Hall basement. In an image that would be replayed in countless documentaries, officers dragged the Rev. Avery Alexander, a prominent civil rights leader and future state representative, up a flight of stairs, one step at a time.
Mr. Giarrusso was the youngest of 11 children. During World War II, he was an enlisted radioman aboard Navy bombers and patrol planes. When the war ended, he joined the city’s police force.
After distinguishing himself as head of the narcotics squad, Mr. Giarrusso was appointed in 1957 as deputy police chief by Mayor deLesseps Morrison. Mr. Giarrusso ascended to police chief in 1960, employing a no-nonsense management style that helped renew the public’s confidence in the force.
Survivors include a son, Joseph Giarrusso Jr.; a brother, Clarence B. Giarrusso, who became police superintendent after his brother; and two grandchildren.
A Mass was said Friday at St. Dominic Catholic Church. Burial followed at Greenwood Mausoleum.