New Orleans jail protest ends when authorities break in after inmates activate sprinklers

The protest began Friday, when inmates in the pod — one of 24 at the jail — barricaded themselves in, listing a series of gripes with jail conditions

The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — On the third day of a protest by high-security inmates at the Orleans Justice Center who had barricaded their pod, refusing food, water and medication, authorities moved in late Sunday, apparently ending what was described as a nonviolent standoff.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson said in a news release that her deputies and staffers with the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections entered the pod at 8:38 p.m. after inmates activated the sprinkler system and began to flood the tier. WDSU-TV captured footage that showed a series of small explosions in the tier, followed by smoke coming out of the facility.

Hutson said six of the inmates in the pod would be immediately transported to a state correctional facility. It wasn't immediately clear how many inmates were confined to Pod 2E, where the protest took place.

The protest began Friday, when inmates in the pod — one of 24 at the jail — barricaded themselves in, listing a series of gripes with jail conditions. The action cut the inmates of from the delivery of food and medication.

In addition, Hutson ordered the water to Pod 2E cut off, meaning that toilets in the unit could not be flushed. She said in a prepared statement Sunday that she did so because inmates used soap to make the windows opaque.

Hutson said Sunday that her deputies repeatedly offered to bring food and medication to those who want or need it, and that inmates refused to accept it. She said food and water were offered three times on Saturday and twice on Sunday.

The sheriff emphasized Sunday afternoon that the protest had been peaceful that there were no plans to use force to quell it.

"Sheriff's deputies are continuing to employ best practices to de-escalate the situation," Hutson said in a statement. "They are engaging in negotiations with the residents in the hopes of resolving this matter without the use of force. So far, offers to resolve this matter have all been refused by the leaders of the protest."

A group of about 30 people demonstrated outside the jail at around 6 p.m. Sunday to express solidarity with inmates.

The protesting inmates produced a list of demands that Hutson released Sunday:

  • Replacement washer, dryer and basketball
  • The lifting of limits of four books a month and 20 photos a month
  • Mail to be delivered and, if refused, a reason given
  • 30-minute visits
  • Toiletries given out timely
  • Proper medication; sick calls treated seriously
  • More recreation time
  • No denial of reading material
  • To be taken to court on court-appointed date
  • A second TV

Hutson said Sunday that she was planning to release footage that shows inmates in the pod "dancing and playing board games" during the protest.

The inmate protest was just the latest show of unrest at the jail. An altercation in June resulted in the death of an inmate, and there were three stabbings more recently in the pod where the protest is taking place.

In her statement Sunday afternoon, Hutson, who campaigned as a progressive and unseated longtime incumbent Sheriff Marlin Gusman, said she intended to keep a campaign promise to reduce violence in the jail.

"It is unfortunate that some of the residents of one of our 24 pods are using this moment to paint a false picture for the media — but we have a process for any grievance or complaint to be heard and addressed and that process must be followed by everyone inside OJC," she said. "In releasing this information today, including the letter, video, and photographs, I am keeping my commitment to be transparent about what is happening inside our jail."

Later Sunday, she issued a statement saying that deputies "employed best practices throughout the standoff" and that their efforts to defuse the situation without force were "continually rebuffed by resident leaders on the pod."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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