04/07/2006

N.O. cop's wife says 3 officers hit her

By Bruce Nolan, Staff writer

Copyright 2006 The Times-Picayune Publishing Company 

Police Superintendent Warren Riley promised Thursday that a New Orleans woman's account that she was beaten by three police officers after a midnight traffic stop in Gentilly will not "fade into the wind."

Riley said he will release the results of an internal investigation as soon as possible. But he said witnesses are giving conflicting accounts, and even Jonie Pratt's account of the Tuesday morning event has changed somewhat.

Officers said Pratt was speeding and ran a red light at the intersection of Elysian Fields Avenue and Gentilly Boulevard shortly after midnight, on Tuesday morning. They followed her to her nearby house in the 4200 block of Touro Street.

Pratt said the officers roughed her up in front of her house, and that she suffered a hairline wrist fracture as well as lesser injuries in the scuffle. Pratt's mother-in-law, Dulcie Scott, said she saw officers throw Pratt to the ground when she emerged from the house.

Pratt was with two sisters at the time, said Danatus King, a lawyer retained by the Pratts. King also serves as president of the local NAACP chapter. Investigators reportedly have interviewed more than a dozen people.

Officers acknowledged in a preliminary report to Riley that they twice used pepper spray to subdue Pratt.

The department identified the three officers involved in the scuffle as Jason Giroir, Joseph Haines and Ryan Vaught. The officers have been temporarily reassigned, the department said.

Several elements in the case have brought it unusual attention. Pratt is the wife of one police officer and the sister of another. In addition, Pratt has raised the issue of racial discrimination in the officers' behavior. She said all of the officers who accosted her were white. She is black.

But Riley said one of the three officers is black.

The Police Department is still dealing with the fallout from an Oct. 8 incident in which three white officers beat a black retired teacher in the French Quarter as several video cameras captured the scene. Riley fired two officers and suspended a third after that incident. All three were indicted by a state grand jury late last month.

That incident recalled some of the darker periods in recent New Orleans police history, in which the department was under the watch of federal authorities for its volume of civil rights complaints and a track record of not aggressively pursuing investigations.

Meanwhile, Katie Schwartzmann, staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Louisiana, called for a swift investigation of the Tuesday incident. She said the ACLU has asked the Police Department for records documenting its training on racial profiling, as well as data on citizen complaints against police officers, and the outcomes of those complaints.

"Based on complaints we receive, we believe that police violence and unwarranted stops disproportionately affect people of color," Schwartzmann said.

The department also disclosed Thursday that Pratt has previously filed five complaints against officers, all of which are matters of public record. Department spokeswoman Bambi Hall said she did not know the resolution of any of the complaints. They could not be independently verified late Thursday.

Meanwhile, King said he was outraged that Riley was "leaking" material about Pratt's account and her complaint history while not critiquing the officers' account.

"This a classic case of victimizing the victim," he said.

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