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Ex-police chief won’t be New Orleans homeland security head

May 16, 2018

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A former city police chief who presided over the department amid scandal that followed Hurricane Katrina will not be hired to head the city’s homeland security department, New Orleans’ new mayor said Wednesday.

News that Mayor LaToya Cantrell had been prepared to hire Warren Riley for the job had brought strong criticism.

“I have listened to the people of New Orleans on both sides, and I have decided not to move forward with his employment,” Cantrell’s news release said.

Riley issued his own statement later, outlining his qualifications for the job and saying Cantrell, who took office May 7, had been preparing to announce him as her choice for the post on May 1. He attached an April 22 letter from Cantrell offering him the $180,000-per-year job, subject to a background check.

“Today’s decision by Mayor Cantrell to reverse her initial decision and rescind my appointment is concerning on several levels,” Riley said. “I am aware of the rumors and untruths being spread questioning my personal character and professional reputation.”

Riley was a veteran member of the department and a deputy chief who rose to the top job when Eddie Compass resigned less than a month after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. He stepped down as former Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010, ahead of sweeping reforms sought by Landrieu and the U.S. Justice Department.

Riley’s critics noted a 2011 report by the Justice Department Civil Rights Division outlining problems in the police department. Poor training, lax policies on use of force, weak internal investigations and discriminatory policing were among the problems.

Critics also said Riley failed to properly investigate shootings of unarmed civilians at New Orleans Danziger Bridge, shootings that happened less than a week after Katrina. The Danziger incident was among scandals that eventually led to federal investigations and convictions after state-level cases fizzled.

Riley stressed that he was not involved in the shootings in any way. “Regarding the police department incident report, I did not read the report in its entirety but, I was briefed multiple times by the Chief of Detectives concerning the incident,” he said. He went on to note that the local district attorney obtained indictments but a state judge threw out the local case.

Part of his statement was devoted to his experience as a coordinating officer on natural disaster responses for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Cantrell said Riley did have strong qualifications.

“But here in New Orleans: the pain is too great,” Cantrell said in a news release. “The untreated and lingering trauma so many of our residents still struggle with, the post-traumatic stress that still informs how we all look back to that flashpoint, makes it untenable to move forward with Mr. Riley as part of our new administration.”

Cantrell did not say if she has another candidate in mind for the position.

Michael Harrison, who became police chief under Landrieu in 2014, will remain in that role in Cantrell’s new administration.

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