Emergency declaration could cover many sins
The trouble with being a character is that people don't take you seriously, which must explain the lack of media interest in the accounts of what happened to New Orleans lawyer Ashton O'Dwyer when he was arrested in the aftermath of Katrina.
O'Dwyer established himself as a character, and got lots of ink nationwide, in the first three weeks after the storm, when he railed against the "incompetence" of federal, state and local officialdom. Declaring that the city had exceeded its authority in ordering an evacuation and confiscating weapons, he told everyone he was rodded up and would resist any attempt to evict him.
He announced that he had seceded from the United States, Louisiana and New Orleans and that his pad on St. Charles Avenue, which had escaped the flood, would henceforth be known as the Duchy of Kilnamanagh.
That, he says, was a jest inspired by the Peter Sellers movie, The Mouse that Roared, but it bolstered a widespread perception that he was somewhat off his gourd. His spell as a darling of the media, and an embarrassment to government, ended when State Police arrested him for public drunkenness Sept. 20, 2005. The mouse that roared has been a voice crying in the wilderness ever since.
The arrest that discredited O'Dwyer came just after he had filed a lawsuit that, not unreasonably, blamed the devastation of Katrina on bumbling politicians and jackleg engineers.
He later filed a lawsuit against state and federal government for civil-rights violations that allegedly occurred during and after his arrest. If there is any truth in what he says and the evidence suggests there is plenty it is time we started listening to him again.
Here is how it went down, according to an affidavit filed in federal court by David Kent, a former deputy superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department, who is now a "public safety, security and crime risk mitigation consultant."
Shortly before midnight O'Dwyer was watching television on his rear patio with a glass of wine before him, although he was not drunk. Several state troopers burst in, cuffed O'Dwyer's hands behind his back, carried him to the street and threw him down before driving him to the Union Passenger Terminal. There he was turned over to guards from the state penitentiary, who were manning a temporary jail colloquially known as Camp Amtrak or Camp Greyhound.
He was "pepper-sprayed between 30 and 40 times and shot between four and six times in the thighs with 12-gauge beanbag projectiles."
That was just a start. O'Dwyer was then locked in a portable metal cage, "continually attacked by two DOC detention officers" and "shot and sprayed repeatedly without being told the nature of any charges against him." The sun made the concrete floor too hot to sit on.
After more than 16 hours, O'Dwyer was released and informed that he was charged with public intoxication, although he had been on his own property and not, purportedly, in his cups. He has never been prosecuted on the charge.
O'Dwyer had a house guest who was awakened when the troopers appeared and whose presence, according to Kent, "forestalled a more punishing encounter."
Photographs of the wounds O'Dwyer sustained at Camp Amtrak, for which he was treated by Dr. Brobson Lutz of New Orleans, have been published in the book, The Great New Orleans Gun Grab.
At a hearing this month, attorneys for the state did not dispute that O'Dwyer had been on his own property at the time of his arrest, but suggested he might still be in violation of curfew. Even if that made any sense, and it clearly doesn't, O'Dwyer was not charged with violating the curfew, which was widely ignored in any case.
But it appears that the state would rather not argue the facts, preferring to claim immunity.
At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan asked Michael Keller, an attorney for the state, "Are you saying that anything that happened at Camp Amtrak then is not no matter what happened there, that no lawsuit can be filed because it's all an emergency?"
Keller replied, "That's what we have upheld."
If it is true that a declaration of emergency enables the authorities to abduct and brutalize citizens with impunity, maybe O'Dwyer's secession idea wasn't so goofy after all.
Copyright 2007, The Times-Picayune