Mild punishments for indifferent sex-crimes cops; police union still objects
By Jarvis DeBerry, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
he New Orleans Police Department has announced that five officers who neglected to fully investigate evidence of sexual abuse and child abuse have been disciplined for their disturbing indifference. Some of the officers were suspended. Some received a letter of reprimand. Some received both. The department's response seems rather mild — given that the police failed to do what they should have done to bring about justice for the most vulnerable among us. But even though the punishments were mild, we are confronted with a police union official who's vowing to get those punishments undone.
"Honestly, I just don't know what it is that these officers are accused of," Donovan Livaccari, a spokesman for the city's Fraternal Order of Police, told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. "And I think I should know by now." To be fair, Livaccari was speaking about the punishments before he had read the officers' official disciplinary letters. But there's no excuse for Livvacari not knowing what the accusations are. In a November 2014 report by New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux, their transgressions were made quite plain. Simply put: The officers in question, according to the inspector general's report, were lackadaisical when they should have been concerned; they were negligent when they should have been focused on bringing rapists — including those raping children — to justice.
Quatrevaux's office didn't treat its investigation into the sex-crimes unit like the typical report that accuses an agency of being wasteful with its resources. More than a month before its report was released, Quatrevaux's office informed the Police Department that there were children in situations that put them at risk of being physically or sexually abused. Thus, before the November report was even released 13 children had either been removed from their homes or referred to child protective services.
5 NOPD officers disciplined for failings in sex crimes
Three detectives and two sergeants -- including a supervisor -- are being suspended or reprimanded, NOPD said.
According to that 2014 report, between 2011 and 2013 detectives Akron Davis, Merrell Merricks, Derrick Williams, Damita Williams and Vernon Hayes were assigned 1,290 sexual-assault or child-abuse calls and 86 percent of those cases were not followed up with an investigative report. Two times out of three the officers in question used the label "miscellaneous incident," that is, nothing the police should worry about looking into further.
In one case a child younger than 3 arrived at a hospital emergency room with a sexually transmitted disease. Davis reportedly concluded a child presenting with a sexually transmitted disease was no evidence that a crime had been committed against that child. He reportedly exhibited the same nonchalance when an infant was found to have skull fractures and when a small child complained of abuse from a registered sex offender. Davis was suspended seven days.
Sgt. Merrell Merricks received a letter of reprimand for reportedly backdating investigative reports requested by the inspector general and for claiming to have sent a rape kit to the State Police when in fact it had never actually left the Police Department's evidence room.
In 2013 the inspector general's office requested supplemental reports from two rapes Derrick Williams should have investigated in 2011 and 2010. He apparently wrote those two reports about those rapes on the same day in 2013. He was suspended 10 days.
Apparently, Damita Williams had made it known to multiple people that she doesn't think simple rape — for example, taking advantage of a person who is drunk or drugged — is a crime. And only one of the 11 simple rape cases she was assigned over a three-year period ever reached the district attorney's office. Damita Williams was suspended 10 days and reprimanded.
Hayes retired earlier this year. Sgt. James Kelly, who wasn't mentioned in the 2014 report but was removed that year as one of two supervisors of the department's sex-crime unit, was suspended 30 days.
Five NOPD detectives mishandled rape, child abuse investigations, inspector general finds
Five NOPD detectives have been transferred to street patrol and are under internal investigation.
The list above does not include all the ways the officers were said to have messed up. But there are enough reasons there for the public — and for Livvacari — to know why the officers are being punished.
It's worth noting that before the police union official had seen the disciplinary letters, Livvacari was vowing to appeal the officers' suspensions. That confirms what we already know: that the unions reflexively defend their members, no matter the details of the criticism. Livvacari is right when he says that the Police Department as a whole bears some blame for crimes not being properly investigated. Even so, there's something deeply disturbing about an officer who does nothing after learning that a toddler has an STD and that an infant has skull fractures.
For what it's worth, Quatrevaux says the sex-crimes unit has made a 180 degree turn since his office's 2014 report. "What was bad before is very good now," Quatrevaux said in June. "It's a remarkable turnaround."
If that turnaround is to last, so must these punishments.
Jarvis DeBerry is deputy opinions editor at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/jarvisdeberry.