- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A dispute has broken out between two watchdog agencies set up by voters during a wave of reforms following Hurricane Katrina meant to turn the city into a model of ethical and effective government.

On Tuesday, Inspector General Edouard Quatrevaux released a letter calling for Susan Hutson, the independent police monitor, to be fired. Quatrevaux, whose office oversees the independent monitor, accused Hutson of overstepping her boundaries.

Hutson has denied the accusations. Her lawyer, Ronald Wilson, called Quatrevaux’s accusations unfounded.

The row is over the powers and limits of the independent police monitor, an office that looks into police misconduct and citizens’ complaints in New Orleans - one of the nation’s most violent cities with a long-troubled police force.

Quatrevaux called Hutson’s actions unprofessional and unethical. He wants a third watchdog panel, the Ethics Review Board, to fire her. The Ethics Review Board was created after Katrina as part of the ethics reform package approved by voters in 2008.

In the letter, dated Sept. 24, Quatrevaux accused Hutson of improperly releasing video of an incident involving a New Orleans police officer. On July 1, Hutson’s office released video showing an NOPD officer striking a 16-year-old girl inside a holding cell. The officer had been fired previously for using unauthorized force.

Quatrevaux said Hutson’s release of the video was called inappropriate by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan. Morgan is overseeing a consent decree the New Orleans Police Department entered into with the U.S. Department of Justice to overhaul the police department.

The inspector general, citing witness accounts, said Morgan reprimanded Hutson for allegedly releasing the video “for publicity purposes.” Quatrevaux added that the judge said Hutson “was attempting to ‘sensationalize’ police incidents.”

The inspector general also took issue with Hutson for making “false public statements” in a television interview in 2013 in which she charged that police were downgrading crimes in the French Quarter. The inspector general said a review by his office found no evidence of police downgrading crimes in the tourist district. Quatrevaux said Hutson later refused to correct her statements publicly.

The inspector general also questioned statements Hutson made on a political show regarding the Michael Brown case in Ferguson, Missouri. Hutson, he said, wrongly “speculated on the officer’s guilt.”

“Commenting on specific cases in other jurisdictions is poor practice, as is commenting on matters for which the police monitor had no knowledge of the facts,” Quatrevaux said.

Quatrevaux also chided her for attempting “to enlarge her authority and jurisdiction beyond that of the law.”

For example, he said she overstepped her boundaries when she sought an administrative subpoena in August 2014 to investigate a complaint against a police officer.

Wilson, Hutson’s lawyer, said Quatrevaux’s accusations were “totally lacking in any substance.” Hutson’s office said she would respond with a letter rebutting his accusations Wednesday.

Wilson said Hutson has “the support of the community” and is performing her job well.

David Marcello, executive director of the Public Law Center at Tulane University, said the dispute has brought to light the need to consider splitting the two offices and making each independent of the other.

“I think we’d be wise to change it,” he said. He added that New Orleans is “immeasurably better off now” than before Katrina when the city did not have these agencies.

John Penny, a criminologist at Southern University-New Orleans, said he saw no reason to fire Hutson. Instead, he warned that firing Hutson would send a “negative message to the public that the police department is above being monitored.”

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