- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A monitor overseeing a slow-going court-ordered reform effort at New Orleans’ jail criticized Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office Friday for failing to hire consultants and purchase computer equipment in accordance with an agreement reached in April.

Monitor Susan McCampbell’s report was filed Friday morning, a day after a television station aired a video, time-stamped June 26, that appears to show people snorting drugs in an area of the jail where incoming inmates are processed.

WWL-TV did not identify the source of the 30-second video.

McCampbell’s report and the video come as authorities are under pressure to improve conditions at the jail, formally known as Orleans Parish Prison. Testimony and evidence at a string of hearings over the past two years have revealed an assortment of problems at the lockup, including inmate suicides, beatings by guards and inmates, sexual assaults, drug abuse and unsanitary, unsafe conditions.

The latest video appears to show several people, some in street clothes and at least one in an orange prison suit, huddled around a water fountain. One appears to be snorting drugs, and an inmate heard on the audio makes a reference to someone “snorting a line.”

The video is much shorter and much less graphic than one released by a federal judge last year during hearings on conditions at the jail. That one, believed to have been recorded in 2009, depicted inmates in a cell in a now-closed section of the jail as they gambled, brandished a loaded handgun and drank beer. It included a close-up image of one inmate injecting something into his vein.

Gusman spokesman Phil Stelly said in an email Friday that jail officials could not respond to questions about the new video’s origin or authenticity because they did not have access to it. Gusman issued a statement saying deputies cannot conduct strip searches in the intake areas, under a longstanding court settlement reached during the administration of a previous sheriff.

As for McCampbell’s report, it deals with an April agreement that is part of a broader reform pact reached in 2012 among the Sheriff’s Office, lawyers for inmates and the U.S. Justice Department. The city of New Orleans, which funds the jail, opposed the initial agreement, fearing its cost to the city. In the months that followed, the administrations of Gusman and Mayor Mitch Landrieu have battled each other in public forums and in court. Gusman has blamed the city for failing to provide adequate funding; Landrieu has questioned Gusman’s ability to manage the jail.

April’s agreement, among other things, established deadlines for hiring consultants considered critical to the reforms. It also called for the purchase of computer equipment for a new jail building nearing completion.

“The rationale for not moving forward with critical hiring-contracting is that only partial funding was provided,” McCampbell’s report said. “This position is unpersuasive to the monitors as this ‘partial funding’ condition was known to the Sheriff’s Office at the time the Agreement was executed.”

In his statement Friday, Gusman remarked, “As we transition, we are making progress in some areas, and we will continue to work hard to achieve full compliance with the consent agreement in due course.”

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