New Orleans deputy constable suspended, accused of ignoring rape

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Close to midnight on one of the main drags in New Orleans, a woman who said she was witnessing a rape told a 911 dispatcher she saw someone who might be able to help.

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

The caller told the officer that a woman was being raped on 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 her cry for help was allegedly brushed away. While still on the phone with the emergency operator, she’s heard telling the officer what she saw — but he doesn’t respond.

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

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

New Orleans Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said Thursday that 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 a deputy constable with the Second City Court, Ferguson said, relaying that the deputy constable had been suspended from duty.

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

The police chief explained Thursday the difference between his department and the office of city constables. “Unfortunately, some of our uniforms are similar in nature,” Ferguson said.

The unnamed deputy constable, who has over three decades of experience and no history of infractions, has been suspended indefinitely without pay while an internal investigation proceeds, Nola.com reported. The night of the alleged rape, he was working an off-duty security detail 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 over five-minute conversation with the emergency dispatcher, first obtained by the Lens, the caller sounds increasingly frustrated as she frantically tries to seek help.

A woman was raped on a train, police say. Passengers watched and didn’t call 911.

The attacker fled after the woman on the 911 call approached the deputy constable but before officers with the New Orleans Police Department arrived at 11:24 pm, three minutes after the emergency call was logged into the system, Ferguson said.

“He’s gone. This … cop is still a block away,” the caller told the dispatcher, referring to the deputy constable, “and this girl got raped in the street corner. There is a cop a block away.” The woman also claimed to have seen two more police officers drive past the scene.

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

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

“In our review of the evidence … we did see a vehicle drive by, but we cannot prove or disprove that our officer could actually see that there was something going on at that intersection,” Ferguson said.

Hours after the alleged crime, the 911 caller posted about what she’d witnessed in a Twitter thread that was shared some 18,000 times and garnered over 50,000 likes.

The story reverberated deeply in a community struggling with a crime spike amid a severe law enforcement staffing shortage. But after much outrage was directed at the New Orleans Police Department, its investigation concluded that the issue of the deputy constable’s response falls to the Second City Court.

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

“We are all shocked that anybody could get that kind of complaint and not respond timely,” Shorty said.

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