After courtroom fireworks Tuesday morning from a video depicting drug use, gunplay and beer drinking by inmates inside the Orleans Parish jail complex, and one video showing an inmate hanging out on Bourbon Street, testimony in the week-long hearing over a proposed jail reform package turned to a corrections expert who called inmate violence in the jail the worst he's seen.
The testimony from Manuel David Romero, an expert for the U.S. Department of Justice, echoed the testimony Monday from another expert for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represents inmates in the case.
Romero, former deputy secretary of the New Mexico prison system, reported a wide array of lapses in the jail facility during two visits last year, in April and December. Those lapses included inmates engaging in "sexual misconduct" in plain view of deputies who did nothing, Romero reported.
Also among the facts that emerged during his testimony was that 32 inmates suffered stab wounds in the jail facility last year. There also were 698 prisoner assaults, one for every three to four inmates.
"I have not seen numbers this large," Romero said.
Romero was asked to comment on the video footage, which showed inmates playing cash dice games, drinking Budweiser, unloading what appeared to be a Glock handgun, and one inmate shooting drugs into his arm.
No sheriff's deputies were in sight. How the gun got into the jail -- never mind the beer, drugs and video recorder -- and how the inmate got out to roam Bourbon Street, remained in doubt.
"What it tells you is, it's basically a total lack of a security program," Romero testified.
Romero cited a lack of manpower that makes it nearly impossible for deputies to closely supervise inmates in the jail, although he acknowledged that he did not conduct a staffing survey to see if deputies assigned elsewhere could be redeployed.
Advocates for inmates, the U.S. Department of Justice and Sheriff Marlin Gusman agreed in December to a federal consent decree that would be overseen by U.S. Disrict Court Judge Lance Africk, who will decide after the week-long hearing whether to approve it.
After that, another hearing slated for late May would determine just how much the consent decree will cost.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu is balking at the potential cost, and lawyers for the city are trying to argue that the agreement is too broad and that many of the deficiencies have nothing to do with money.
The city took aim at Gusman for the blatant illegal activity in the video, which was filmed in the now-closed House of Detention.
"Have you ever seen a group of inmates have not only a Glock, but controlled substances, heroin and cocaine, a lighter, large cans of beer, all at the same time?" asked Harry Rosenberg, an attorney for the city.
"No, I have not," Romero said. "That's the first time."
The consent decree would mandate widespread changes at the jail, including increased staffing and training to address a raft of alleged lapses, including a raft of violence, death and escapes.
Attorneys for the city played up the fact on Tuesday that the jail facility is accredited by a national group on its health care and fire prevention measures.
Rosenberg also tried to ask Romero about murder rates in the jail, hoping to point out that killings in the facility are rare.
He also asked Romero whether he had considered the consent decree's cost to the city, and its possible effect on public safety throughout the city -- from cuts to other services -- should the consent decree go into effect.
Africk wouldn't entertain the line of questioning, however. Downplaying suicides and other deaths in the jail, or playing up the potential cost, won't work at least for now, the judge said.
"It wouldn't work for your family and it's not gong to work for the city of New Orleans," Africk said, while several family members of inmates who have died in the jail sat in the gallery. "Put aside the question of murders. It's much broader than that."
Romero spent awhile testifying to what he called a weak or non-existent prisoner classification system that would separate low-risk inmates from more violent ones, or predators.
He also described numerous incidents of shank stabbings in the jail, and called the jail staff woefully deficient in conducting regular inmate patdowns.
The video, he said, points to a jail staff that not only lets inmate conduct slide, but may allow or facilitate contraband entering the facility.
"The level of contraband was outrageous, particularly with the firearms and drugs, and the money, and the beer," Romero said of the video. "From a security standpoint it was shocking. They are found in jails, but not blatant like this."
Romero's testimony was ongoing Tuesday afternoon. Gusman is expected to testify later in the week.
Gusman responded to the videotape in a news release Tuesday, noting that he closed down the House of Detention last year because it was "in a state of disrepair" and had an "abhorrent lack of proper security measures."
Later Tuesday, he announced that he will be available to speak with the media after Wednesday's proceedings conclude. Click to watch videos