NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Day two of a federal court hearing for the proposed consent decree over the troubled Orleans Parish Prison system began with a shocking videotape that showed various atrocities and violations inside the jail.
You can watch the video above. We've edited out the sound due to profanity.
The courtroom went quiet when a jail inmate appeared on the video screen, cooking crack cocaine.
Moments later, an inmate sitting on a bunk bed wraps his arm in a cloth strip from a prison jumpsuit. He pulls out a syringe, slams it into his vein and shoots up.
Someone yells, "This is Orleans Parish Prison Gone Wild!"
The video shows an overcrowded jail cell full of shirtless inmates. One man lights a joint. Then the videographer pans to a handful of pills: Percocet, Vicodin and more.
“We rolling like a dog in here,” someone says on the tape. "Medication, pills, drugs, heroin, crack.”
Moments later, the video shows a dice game in the cell. Men flash wads of money and take turns shootings dice.
"They want us to live like animals, we living like (expletive) animals,” someone shouts.
Then out comes a loaded handgun. An inmate, his head wrapped in a towel, shows it off.
He acts for the camera, waves it around and unloads the clip. Click, click, click, click. Bullets fall to dirty jail cell floor.
“It is real,” someone says off-camera. “Believe that.”
The dice game continues. Men then pluck beers – Budweiser– from an Igloo water cooler inside the jail cell. They chug the beer, laugh about the 17-year-old inmate drinking, calling him a “young alcoholic.”
A couple of inmates down pills with beer.
There is more bragging to the camera, followed by scenes of drugs. The men roll, snort, smoke.
About 12 minutes into the 14-minute video a man appears to cut lines of heroin on the crossword book of Bible verses.
"That's how we rock in O-P-P, baby” a man shouts as an inmate snorts substances up his nose.
The point of the video appeared to be to expose the conditions at the jail, show people exactly what was going on inside.
It was one of three videos shown in court this morning as part of the federal lawsuit over Orleans Parish Prison conditions.
The origin of the videos is unclear. And in court, the men in the video, and those behind its production, were never named.
Nonetheless, some information was gleaned from courtroom testimony. For example, the videos were found just days ago, subpoenaed as part of a grand jury probe into the sheriff's office. They were taken from inside a safe belonging to Sheriff Gusman's office.
Gusman’s agency is at the center of a separate federal criminal corruption probe. Two former top deputies have pleaded guilty, acknowledging they rigged sheriff’s office contracts in exchange for gifts and money. Details on that probe, and any links, were not cited in federal court Tuesday.
The graphic jailhouse video was just one of three video clips recovered from that safe.
In a separate video, a young man takes the videographer on a tour of Bourbon Street, leering at women and bragging about how he escaped from jail. He intimates that he escaped from the prison, went on a video tour of Bourbon, then returned to jail to document the conditions.
But this man is never named in court, his story never mentioned beyond the video footage.
A spokesman for Gusman did not respond to requests for comment. A press release from the public relations agency hired by Gusman noted that the sheriff will comment on the matter Wednesday afternoon.
A statement released late Tuesday afternoon from Mayor Mitch Landrieu noted that the city helped expose the video footage.
“This tape was hidden away from the public in a safe in the sheriff's office and only came to light when the city's legal team fought to uncover it,” Landrieu said.
The videos appear to be taken years ago inside the House of Detention, a now shuttered facility.
Gusman’s office, in a released statement, highlighted the fact that the House of Detention “is a city-owned building in a state of disrepair and abhorrent lack of proper security measures.
The video footage bolsters allegations by the U.S. Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both portray the prison complex as rife with violence, constitutional violations, and more.
Landrieu expressed shock, and lambasted the jail conditions in his press release.
“How can we make our city safe when prisoners are coming and going from jail as they please, walking freely on the streets and then returning to jail with heroin, cocaine, and loaded weapons?” he said.
Landrieu is objecting to the proposed consent decree – which has been agreed upon by Gusman, the Justice Department and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Landrieu has said the city, which funds the jail, should not be responsible for paying for Gusman’s mismanagement and malfeasance.
Meanwhile, Gusman has portrayed his agency as strapped for cash, and underserved by a lack of city financing.
In light of the video, Landrieu said “we again request the Department of Justice join us in immediately putting a federal receiver in place to manage the jail. It is now clearer than ever that the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office is not keeping the prison secure and our city safe. “
The fairness hearing will continue tomorrow in federal court and likely last through the week. Gusman will likely testify later this week.
Gusman and the state of his jail facilities have been under scrutiny for years. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed its federal civil rights lawsuit in April. It alleged numerous constitutional violations and inhumane conditions.