New Orleans Gets a Makeshift Jai

New Orleans Gets a Makeshift Jail

Alan Zarembo Los Angeles Times, September 9th 2005

International Terrorist George Bush This beleaguered city’s attempt to rebuild its criminal justice system starts here, at the downtown Greyhound bus station. It is now a jail. The bus stalls are still numbered 1 to 16, but now each number hangs over a cage hastily constructed from chain-link fencing and razor wire. By Tuesday afternoon, the first five cages were packed with about 100 sweaty men and women, most of them arrested on suspicion of looting. Their clothes were tattered and many lacked shoes. Alone in cage 6, Wendell L. Bailey leaned against the fence. “They said I shot at a helicopter,” he said. Built during the weekend, the cages are a poor substitute for the massive city jail that was evacuated during the flood and remains largely underwater. But after days of lawlessness, New Orleans finally has a place to bring arrestees. Fewer than 10 have been picked up inside the city limits. The vast majority were apprehended in neighboring Jefferson Parish, where flooding was less severe, giving police more opportunities to pursue looting suspects. The jail is being run largely by prison guards brought from the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. When they entered the building late last week to begin construction, they chased off people inside the gift shop, said Burl Cain, the Angola warden who is in charge here. The terminal is located in Union Station, which also houses the Amtrak depot. The clocks, which had stopped, began ticking again when generators were installed. A few longtime Angola inmates trained as welders helped put up the fencing. In the corner of each holding cell is a portable toilet ­ with no door. A German shepherd attack dog also made the trip from Angola. Armed guards stand at the entrance to the terminal. There is room here for 700 suspects, about 45 to a cage. “We call it Camp Greyhound,” said Cain, who wore a T-shirt reading, “Angola: A gated community.” All bus station inmates will be given crew cuts upon arrival, he said. Nobody was brought here for stealing to survive, he said. “One guy came in here and said, ‘I was stealing water,'” Cain said. To which the warden replied, “Well, why do you have all that beer and wine?” Another suspect was arrested for attempted rape, he said. Tabitha Shantell, picked up on suspicion of looting in Jefferson Parish, said she and a friend were arrested Saturday afternoon outside a ransacked wireless phone store. She said she was there to return a number of items that a friend’s son had stolen. “I was going to throw them in the door,” she said. Prosecutions will be far from routine. “Most of our D.A.s have lost their homes and are scattered around the country,” said Kellie Rish, an assistant state district attorney in New Orleans. Grand jury members must be located to issue charges in the most serious cases. Under normal circumstances, charges must be brought within 60 days. The state government may suspend that rule and extend the deadlines, said Melanie Talia, who also works for the state district attorney in New Orleans. Her office claimed two rooms ­ one for evidence and one for workspace ­ in the upstairs of the depot. Court appearances may be conducted via videoconferencing, Cain said. Cases involving federal crimes will be handled by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, which now has a branch office on the ground floor of the bus station. The suspect facing the most-serious charges so far is Bailey, 20, who has been isolated in cage 6. He was arrested early Monday by federal ATF agents investigating reports of nightly shooting in a neighborhood in the Algiers section of the city. According to a criminal complaint, the agents saw him fire at a helicopter from an apartment window and then heard him say, “They won’t be back now.” The agents reported that they found a .22-caliber revolver, a .32-caliber revolver and a box of 9-millimeter ammunition under a mattress in the apartment. Bailey, shirtless with a cross hanging on a long chain around his neck, faces federal charges of being a felon in possession of firearms and of attempting to destroy an aircraft with those weapons. Claiming that he was targeted because of a prior conviction for illegal possession of a gun, Bailey said he was innocent. He said he was asleep when he heard a loud voice calling, “Come out of the house.” He will be sent to Baton Rouge for arraignment, a federal justice official said. Most suspects do not stay here long. By late Tuesday afternoon, the cells were nearly empty again. All but a few of the inmates had been loaded onto three buses headed for the Elaine Hunt Correctional Center about 60 miles away in the town of St. Gabriel. From there, they will be dispersed to prisons around the state while they await the filing of formal charges. Those suspects are not the only ones waiting for justice. A quarter of the records were recovered from the New Orleans jail during last week’s evacuation of about 6,000 inmates. Inevitably, some of the prisoners were being held on misdemeanor charges. But without records, Cain said, there was no way to know for sure. The prisoners were dispersed to various state penitentiaries, including Angola. “I had one guy tell me that he was in there for speeding,” Cain said. When another claimed his crime was not paying child support, Cain said, “We laughed and loaded him up too.”

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