New Orleans deputy constable suspended, accused of ignoring rape

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Around midnight on one of New Orleans’ main thoroughfares, a woman who said she witnessed a rape told a 911 dispatcher she saw someone who might be able to to help.

“Actually, there’s a policeman in front of me now,” the woman told the dispatcher, who asked her to get the policeman’s attention.

The caller told the officer that a woman was being raped in a nearby corner, according to audio of the 911 call obtained by Nola.com and the nonprofit Newsroom. The Lens. The victim was unconscious, she said.

But his call for help would have been swept away. While still on the phone with the emergency operator, she overheard the officer telling what she had seen – but he didn’t answer.

The woman grew increasingly anxious, expressing her frustration to the 911 dispatcher. “I mean, that police officer isn’t even moving – he’s still just parked here,” the woman told the dispatcher.

Within minutes, the woman said, the attacker had fled. The woman, who was visiting the area on vacation, shared the experience in tweets that garnered national attention, sparking a wave of backlash against city law enforcement officials.

New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said Thursday an investigation was immediately launched. The officer accused of ignoring the woman’s pleas on July 26 was not a member of the New Orleans Police Department but rather an assistant officer of the city’s Second Court, Ferguson said, recounting that the Deputy Agent had been suspended from duty.

Constables are peace officers in Louisiana with full powers of arrest under state law. Their duties include handling evictions, property seizures and subpoenas. They are trained law enforcement officers who wear a badge, carry a firearm and are issued police radios, according to local news station WWL.

The police chief explained on Thursday the difference between his service and the city’s gendarmerie office. “Unfortunately some of our uniforms are similar in nature,” Ferguson said.

The unnamed deputy constable, who has more than three decades of experience and no prior offense history, has been suspended indefinitely without pay while an internal investigation continues, Nola.com reported. On the night of the alleged rape, he was working as an off-duty security guard for a movie being filmed in the city’s French Quarter, a historic area filled with boutiques, antique stores, galleries and jazz bars.

The woman who called 911 said she was on the corner of Royal and Toulouse streets when she witnessed what appeared to be a rape in progress. In the more than five-minute conversation with the emergency dispatcher, first obtained by the Lens, the caller seems increasingly frustrated as he frantically tries to call for help.

A woman was raped on a train, police say. Passengers watched and did not call 911.

The assailant fled after the woman in the 911 call approached the deputy constable, but before New Orleans Police Department officers arrived at 11:24 p.m., three minutes later that the emergency call was logged into the system, Ferguson said.

“He’s gone. That… cop is still a block away,” the caller told the dispatcher, referring to the assistant constable, “and that girl was raped around the corner. There’s a cop at a block away.The woman also claimed to have seen two other police officers walking past the scene.

A spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department told Nola.com earlier this week that the alleged victim was “not ready to be part of the investigation process.”

Ferguson said Thursday the alleged assault is still under investigation. The chief defended his department’s response, saying a review showed “our officers responded quickly and they responded appropriately.”

“During our review of the evidence…we saw a vehicle pass by, but we cannot prove or disprove that our officer could actually see anything happening at that intersection,” Ferguson said.

Hours after the alleged crime, the 911 caller posted what she witnessed in a Twitter feed which has been shared some 18,000 times and garnered over 50,000 likes.

The story resonated deeply in a community struggling with a spike in crime amid a severe shortage of law enforcement personnel. But after much outrage was directed at the New Orleans Police Department, its investigation concluded that the matter of the deputy constable’s response lay with the city’s second court.

Officer Edwin Shorty, who oversees that office, told Nola.com that the allegations against the now-suspended deputy officer are “not in the character of the majority of law enforcement.”

“We are all shocked that someone could receive this kind of complaint and not respond in a timely manner,” Shorty said.

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