NEW ORLEANS -- A veteran New Orleans police officer was suspended without pay Wednesday after a video was posted on the Internet that shows him failing to break up a fight between two women on Canal Street.
Cortez Hankton, a 28-year veteran, was suspended for neglect of duty pending a full internal investigation by the Public Integrity Bureau, Police Chief Ronal Serpas said.
Serpas said he took action against Hankton after he watched a YouTube video showing Hankton standing several feet from two the female combatants, but failing to intervene as they grapple and punch one another.
At one point in the nearly three-minute video, a man steps into the skirmish and lands two hard blows to the face of one of the women. Hankton reacts by trying to push the man aside, but then allows the man to walk away without consequences.
“I've lost confidence at this time in his abililty to perform the duties necessary to protect the people of New Orleans and to protect fellow officers,” Serpas said. “No one, no one, can watch this two-plus minute film and believe that Officer Hankton did all that he could, including all he could do physically, to stop two citizens from pummeling one another.”
Hankton’s attorney, Raymond Burkart III, argued that the officer had reasons to keep his distance. He said Hankton was busy calling for backup on his police radio while keeping close watch on a fellow officer who was engaged with two men in the fight.
"The fact is these two officers were outnumbered, outmanned,” Burkart said. “This goes right back to our manpower problem. You can see the officer calling for backup. He's not ordering pizza, he's asking for assistance."
Serpas said the explanation offered by Burkart doesn’t meet the training and high standards of the NOPD to protect citizens from hurting one another.
He said Hankton’s inaction is magnified by the fact that the second officer on the scene, John Dobard, physically engages the two men on the fringes of the fight, even as one of the men grabs Dobard by the neck.
“I believe anybody who looks at that film can draw their own conclusions from what they saw,” Serpas said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement Wednesday supporting Serpas’ decision.
“This officer’s inaction is immensely troubling to me and well below the standard I expect from officers in our police department,” Landrieu wrote. “We have zero tolerance for an officer who fails to protect our citizens. I support the Chief’s decision to act quickly to suspend this officer and launch an investigation into the matter.”
Cortez, who was assigned to the recruitment division, has not given a statement to investigators, Serpas said.
After additional officers responded to the fight, including two female officers, the two women at the center of the fight were issued municipal summonses for disturbing the peace, while one man was arrested for simple battery.