MARGARET WARNER: Controversy continued this week over the videotaped police beating of a New Orleans man last Saturday night. New Orleans police charged Robert Davis of public intoxication and resisting arrest during the late-night encounter in the French Quarter. Today Davis, a 64-year-old retired schoolteacher, pleaded not guilty to the charges. And yesterday he vehemently denied them in an appearance on "Good Morning America."
ROBERT DAVIS: I haven't dank for over 25 years, and I'm proud to say that.
QUESTIONER: Did you resist arrest in anyway?
ROBERT DAVIS: How could you resist arrest when you're getting sucker punched? You know, I mean, that's illogical. I mean, someone hits you from behind, throws you against a wall and then tells somebody you will kick your ass and then chokes you; those are the things that happened to me because I remember those things.
MARGARET WARNER: Three police officers involved in the incident have been charged with battery -- two for hitting Davis and the third for shoving a TV producer. They plead not guilty and were suspended from the force. At a press conference today, their attorney insisted Davis had been staggering down the street and had reacted belligerently when officers tried to intercede.
FRANK DeSALVO, Attorney: Had this man just complied and said, listen, I'm here, I have got a friend over there, if you call him, he can come get he, he'd have gone home. Had he just let them cuff him, he would have just gone off to jail, he would have gone home. He brought it on by his actions.
MARGARET WARNER: The lawyer denied the officers had used excessive force given the circumstances.
FRANK DeSALVO: I see an incident, a man being -- trying to be brought under control who doesn't want to be brought under control.
MARGARET WARNER: Though Davis is black and the three officers are white, Davis said yesterday he does not believe the beating was racially motivated.
The case is just the latest blow to the New Orleans police force in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In the days after the storm hit, police were unable to maintain order, and about 250 of the 1,500-officer force abandoned the city.
The state of Louisiana is also looking into unconfirmed reports that some officers participated in looting. Last month embattled police Superintendent Eddie Compass resigned. The new acting chief, Warren Riley, said any misconduct in the force will be dealt with swiftly.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, for more on the challenges facing the city's police department, we're joined from New Orleans by Captain Marlin Defillo, commander of public affairs for the New Orleans Police Department, and Rafael Goyeneche, the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a government watchdog group and from Austin, Texas, Professor Peter Scharf, executive director of the Center for Society, Law and Justice at the University of New Orleans. Welcome to you all.
Professor Scharf, is this latest incident symptomatic of any kind of a larger problem at the New Orleans Police Department?
PETER SCHARF: Well, first of all, you have to look at the incident itself. The standard for the use of force is a case called Gray vs. Connors that says an officer can use reasonable force given the totality of circumstances, and then use methods to deal with that force that don't have to be the best but have to be reasonable.
So the first question is: Were the actions outside of that definition of law? The issue they have I think is a huge image problem in the sense that you go back to the Len Davis case were somebody procured a drug dealer to kill someone else who was charging that officer with misconduct.
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about back in the 1990's?
PETER SCHARF: Yeah. At one point they had large numbers of officers in jail, I think one hundred sixty officers in jail, three on death row. This is way before this administration took over.
So what I think Warren Riley and the group now has to do is has to really assure the public that, in fact, they are going to hold to the highest standards of integrity. And in some ways, if you inherit that legacy, set of perceptions, I think the imperative to assure the public becomes bankable, to become a strong agent of propriety and integrity is -- has to be top on their agenda.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Goyeneche, what is your assessment of whether there are larger problems with the force here or whether this is just a case of a few bad apples, if, in fact, they were bad apples? We don't want to try that case here. What we want to look at here is the state of the New Orleans police force.
RAFAEL GOYENECHE: Well, the state of the New Orleans Police Department is they've actually gone through a natural disaster really of biblical proportions in the history of the United States. Over the past seven weeks, these police officers have lost their homes, lost their families, many of their families have moved to other parts of the state and other parts of the country. They've been working 12-hour shifts. The ones that are here now that are actually living on a cruise ship with their families in close quarters, two of their fellow officers have committed suicide. Over 200 officers are under investigation for having deserted the police department. They're an emotionally and physically exhausted police department.
Keep in mind that we're talking about three officers. I'm not excusing what is done. I think we need to place what happened in the context of the totality of everything that has transpired here over the past seven weeks.
MARGARET WARNER: Captain Defillo, the strain the officers are living under now and what they've been through, is that affecting their performance in your view?
CAPT. MARLON DEFILLO: No. I think because we have some very dedicated men and women in the police department, and certainly they have risen to the occasion. I've been here since day one for the last seven weeks. And the officers have been doing a lot. There are a number of challenges they have met. There are a number of personal challenges they have not confronted yet.
But yet we have a job to do, and that's to provide the best possible service to this community. The vast majority of the men and women of this department, whether they're commissioned or civilian members, are doing just that.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor Scharf, you refer to some incidents in the early '90s. And for people not that familiar with the New Orleans police force and its history, there was a serious corruption problem, was there not, and behavior problem and then Chief Pennington, a new police chief came in from Washington and really reformed it. Is that the case? And if so, how many of the reforms stuck?
PETER SCHARF: Well, I think it's continued in the Compass and now the Riley administration. I think Richard did an incredible job, got things started. There were some huge legacy problems. I think the issue is --
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. What were those problems? Tell us what those problems were.
PETER SCHARF: Well, you literally -- you know, you literally had one case where an officer ordered a drive-by by a drug dealer on a citizen that complained about him. You had another officer kill their partner in a robbery of a Vietnamese restaurant. And you had large numbers of incidents that were, you know, sanctioned by the public integrity division very effectively.
They worked with the FBI to control the problem. Those reforms have continued. I think you have to say that incident has to be looked at on the face. It has to be looked at through the lens of race. It has to be looked at through the lens of history.
And I think the administration has to work very carefully, especially because of the funding needs of the department, the goodwill that the department needs from the rest of the country, to reform itself to continue its operations. So to be incredibly vigilant --
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Goyeneche, would you look at this, and again I don't want to rehash this incident, really look at the problems of the department as the professor suggested through the lens of race and the past history of corruption problems. To what degree has the force changed? To what degree has it not?
RAFAEL GOYENECHE: One thing I'd like the make very clear is we were present in the late '80s and early '90s. The Metropolitan Crime Commission in the late '80s and early '90s was talking about the corruption and dysfunction within the New Orleans Police Department.
One thing I'd like to make very clear -- this police department today is nowhere in near the condition that it was it in late '80s and early '90s. Now, having said that, what we saw on film the other day in the French Quarter with that civilian is not acceptable conduct under any circumstances, and is indicative of maybe some problems within the police department that persist.
Despite the fact all the stress these officers have been under, they are professionals, and there is no excuse for any officer to deviate from departmental regulations dealing with the public.
MARGARET WARNER: Captain Defillo, I'll get back to you in a minute, but let me ask Peter Scharf one other question. Do you think that the department can properly be faulted for what happened in the wake of Katrina, the inability to keep law and order, the fairly significant defections from the force, or do you think that was the kind of situation that was beyond the capacity of any police department to cope?
PETER SCHARF: First we have to establish a factual baseline to understand who left; why did they leave; where did they go; what were the circumstances and what are the stresses. There are two hypotheses: One, some fault lines in the department that led to what some believe occurred in terms of attrition. The other thing, as in the military, any unit given enough --
MARGARET WARNER: What fault lines?
PETER SCHARF: Well, there were some leadership issues, some command and control issues, some communications technology, communications issues that imploded under the stress of this event.
The other hypothesis that any police department anywhere in the country, given enough stress, given the conflict and demands -- I mean, New York City after 911, no one was shooting at people going across the Brooklyn Bridge.
This, as Raphael said, is an unprecedented incident. And we don't know enough from a behavioral science model to know how other organizations would have coped under those circumstances.
And it's possible that virtually any department, given the stress, given the conflicting demands, could have broken but that's where we need to do some objective research to establish what happened and why it happened.
MARGARET WARNER: Captain Defillo, what kind of work does the department have to undertake now to rebuild itself into the kind of force that New Orleans is going to need going forward as part of this rebuilding effort?
CAPT. MARLON DEFILLO: Well, let me first say that someone made a comment about we lost control of the city with the looting. We never lost control of the city in terms of law enforcement. There were pockets of cases were people were looting and we make no balk about that.
Secondly, we're in the rebuilding stages now. The police department -- I'm very proud to be a member of this police department for 25 years. The vast majority of the men and women of this department I'm very proud of. And I don't want this one incident to stain the entire membership of this department.
The department you see today is not the department you had 11 years ago, as someone is making reference to. The average age of a police officer now or the average time is about five to six years on the job. So those folks weren't here back then.
There are a number of programs and checks and balances that have been institutionalized by internal affairs -- the early warning system, integrity checks. We have an FBI agent assigned to public integrity to work side by side with our membership.
So there are a number of things that we're doing proactively. There are police departments around America that have similar problems. Corporate America has similar problems. The question is: when these problems arise, is the administration going to do something about it? And I would submit today that when this issue was brought to the forefront this past weekend, the superintendent took swift and decisive action to let the public know and the public demands accountability, and we did just that.
Now, the department is rebuilding our infrastructure. We have at least three or four of our district stations which are not operational. We lost approximately 300 patrol cars during the storm. We lost communication. We lost telephone communication.
So there are challenges that we're meeting today. And to look back for the past seven weeks and look at where these officers have been and where we are today, we've come a long way. And this department will again rise to the level where people will say, I'm very proud of this agency and the men and women are doing a great job.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Captain Defillo, gentlemen, thank you all three.