2 NOPD cops arrested in theft, beating cases

By Michael Perlstein, Staff writer

Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company 

Two New Orleans police officers have been arrested, one for allegedly beating a handcuffed suspect with a police baton on Mardi Gras, in what appears to be a follow-through on Superintendent Warren Riley's public promises to crack down on wayward officers.

However, the Police Department has officially kept quiet about the early March arrests, commenting on the incidents for the first time Thursday, and only after information about the cases was uncovered through court records and civil service documents.

Christopher Jones, a two-year officer assigned to the 8th District, was booked with aggravated battery for allegedly striking a suspect with an expandable baton on Fat Tuesday, according to the records. Jones, patrolling the French Quarter that morning, struck the suspect "while the subject was handcuffed and in your custody," according to the officer's letter of suspension.

On March 2, Jones was handed an emergency 120-day suspension, without pay, according to the letter. The disciplinary action was the toughest allowable under civil service rules. In the past, officers facing similar allegations were reassigned to desk duty pending the outcome of an often drawn-out investigation. In Jones' case, he was booked four days after his suspension following an investigation by the Public Integrity Bureau.

Public Integrity Bureau Chief Marlon Defillo did not respond to numerous inquiries about the arrest. Police information director Bambi Hall repeated some of the facts contained in court documents, but declined to say who witnessed the alleged beating or who complained about Jones' actions. Hall also declined to comment on what happened to the person who was being arrested by Jones or the circumstances of his detention.

In the second case, officer Ira Coleman was booked March 4 with attempted theft after he and another man were allegedly spotted stealing parts from a flooded car, Hall said. The abandoned car was parked at the corner of Esplanade and North Claiborne avenues, she said.

Police sources said Coleman and the civilian accomplice were caught in the act as they tried to steal the car's catalytic converter, a small mechanical device that can be sold for about $60 based on its platinum content.

Coleman, a recent police academy graduate, resigned immediately after he was arrested, Hall said.

Both Jones and Coleman are free on bond as they await a review of the cases by the district attorney's office. Court records show that Jones was issued a $5,000 recognizance bond by Criminal Court Judge Julian Parker. Coleman was issued a $1,500 recognizance bond by Judge Raymond Bigelow, records show.

Rafael Goyeneche, president of the nonprofit Metropolitan Crime Commission, said the decisive action against Jones and Coleman seemed to fulfill promises by Riley and Defillo to reshape the often-beleaguered Police Department by taking a zero-tolerance approach to wrongdoing in the ranks. Both Riley and Defillo, appointed on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, have said they are eager to erase negative images from media accounts of police desertions, looting and brutality during the storm and its aftermath.

Given that desire to present a more professional image, Goyeneche said he was puzzled by the department's failure to immediately release information about the arrests. The department issued no notice of the arrests to the media, a standard practice when officers face state charges.

"I think it's important for the department to alert people that they are being aggressive about rooting out this type of police misconduct," Goyeneche said. "It doesn't make any sense that they'd be this aggressive but fail to publicize their efforts."

Riley could not be reached for comment.

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Michael Perlstein can be reached at mperlstein@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3316. 
March 17, 2006

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