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Jailed in New Orleans Two Weeks Before Katrina, Fmr. Corrections Officer Held for Four Months Without Charge

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Roderick Dean, a former corrections officer, recounts his harrowing ordeal two years ago when he was arrested and jailed without charge on August 11, 2005–two weeks before Hurricane Katrina. When the storm hit, Dean was in New Orleans Parish Prison where he narrowly escaped drowning after the jail flooded. He was never charged and released four months later. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting live from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans on this, the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Right behind us is where the barge came through the levee wall, wiping out blocks of houses. Driving here through the French Quarter, you would think New Orleans has been renewed, or Renew Orleans.

But right here in the Ninth Ward, the endless wait for help. According to our guest yesterday, Malik Rahim, who founded Common Ground Relief, of the more than 12,000 people who once lived here in the Lower Ninth Ward, he estimates there are maybe 400 today. As we traveled through the Ninth Ward, we saw wrecked schools, churches, houses, many of the houses demolished, very few rebuilt. Many places, we just saw foundations that are overgrown with marsh weed.

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. Activists and lawyers testified yesterday at the Katrina tribunal in New Orleans that was put together by the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. They said the hurricane only deepened the existing cracks in the criminal justice system.

Roderick Dean joins us today. He’s a former corrections officer. He was arrested without charge on August 11, 2005. That’s two weeks before Katrina. When the hurricane hit, Roderick Dean was in the Orleans Parish Prison, where he narrowly escaped drowning. But he’s here. So we’ll let him tell the story. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Roderick Dean.


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what happened. August 11, you’re on the street of New Orleans. Why were you arrested?

RODERICK DEAN: Basically, I was — I feel racially profiled walking in an affluent majority-white neighborhood of uptown New Orleans. Along South Claiborne Avenue at the intersection of Calhoun around 8:00 a.m. on the morning of August 11, 2005, as my friend and I were walking to breakfast at McDonald’s, I was carrying my prescription meds with me, when a white New Orleans police officer approached the two of us and proceeded to frisk us and patted us down. My friend was carrying a weapon, which I was unaware of at the time.

At that point, the scene escalated into an unwarranted arrest, followed by the two of us being handcuffed together. The white officer then proceeded to take my friend’s weapon and beat him upside his head with it. During that altercation, I was — being handcuffed with him, I was jostled around and banged myself up against the police car, while that altercation was underway.

Afterward, we were later taken to Orleans Parish jail, where I was charged with trespassing and possession of prescription medicine, Hydrocodone. The medicine charge came from the fact that I had my own medicine, clearly marked in my own medicine bottles, on me at the time of my being arrested and frisked.

Once inside Orleans Parish jail, I was awaiting arraignment for those charges to be released. And basically the charges rose and fell on the prescriptions that I had from the Veterans Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

AMY GOODMAN: So you had to wait for the prescription to come through to get out?

RODERICK DEAN: I had to wait for —

AMY GOODMAN: The evidence.

RODERICK DEAN: Yeah, the prescription profile to arrive by way of fax from the VA hospital, in order to go to court and show that those meds belonged to me. And unfortunately, the hurricane came in that period of time, during that period of time, preventing me from actually going to court and proving my innocence and also locking me up into a harrowing situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So what happened when the hurricane hit? What floor were you on?

RODERICK DEAN: I was on the first floor of the jail’s medical unit, tier — Templeman I, cell one, I think, A-1, B-1. I don’t know the numbers. But anyway, I was on front and center.

And on that particular day, the morning, Sunday, I think it was August the 28th, 2005, we woke up early that day. And I was lying in the bed on the third — the lowest bed of three-stacked-high bed bunks. And the two guys above me woke up that morning on Sunday and felt the concrete wall beside the bunk and noticed that the wall was wet with sweat, sweating like. And, you know, they proceeded to tell us in the cell, “Hey, my walls are sweating,” at which point I felt the wall beside my bunk, which was still completely dry. However, at that point, I reached down to the foot of my bed and grabbed my blanket. Well, my blanket was completely soaked with water.

Shortly thereafter, sometime early on in the day, Sunday, the electricity went out. Power failed. The TVs went off. And no circulation, no air-conditioning in the room, the air became stagnant. The toilets in the bathroom, about six stalls, were full of excrement, and they were not working. They backed up and stopped working. The cell quickly became hot, steamy.

And shortly thereafter, water entered the cell. It first entered the cell from a corner in the room, and it just quickly raced across the floor. And it was a manurish brown-colored water. It quickly rose. And after it reached the depth of the toilets, the toilets actually floated out into the cell. The water continued to rise at that time.

Because I take a variety — I had been given an intravenous injection of pig interferon on Friday before the hurricane, which causes flu-like symptoms, which basically leaves me bedridden or wheelchair-bound for three or four days after that injection, so that was the condition, physical condition, that I was in at the time of the hurricane. I was seated in my wheelchair that day.

Well, the water quickly rose and covered my wheelchair. It also covered my lower bunk of the three stacked beds. As the day bore on and progressed, we had no electricity. And upon the approach of darkness, the cell was completely pitch black. You were unable to —

AMY GOODMAN: And the water was now…?

RODERICK DEAN: The water was above — the water was above the first bed. My bed was completely submerged. I had climbed to an empty bunk on the third bunk.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were the guards?

RODERICK DEAN: There were no guards visible in sight. The last time I saw the guards was around — well, they came at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday. And we got our last meal in OPP, which was grits, around 6:00.

AMY GOODMAN: Orleans Parish Prison.

RODERICK DEAN: Orleans Parish Prison. And then about an hour later, they came around with meds, with pills for that particular day, which I didn’t get pills that day. I got pills that night before.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few minutes. What happened after that? What happened on Monday and Tuesday?

RODERICK DEAN: Well, you know, the waters rose. We were in the darkness. You know, basically we were going to drown. We stood in the water, took our wheelchairs, buckets, and tried to bang down the glass and get out. We were screaming and hollering, using cigarette lighters to illuminate the cell and gauge the depth of the water. We quickly rose to the third bunk.

And at that point, there were flashes of death. You know, I saw my body in the water bloating. I just kind of prayed at that point and asked God to really save me, to stop the water from rising. And at that point, believe it or not, the water actually stopped rising, which had covered the second bunk and was about five feet in depth, up close to my neck.

And hours after that, a few guards came back in rubber clothing and flashlights and fumbled with the keys, because the hydraulic doors were not working. They had to override that with the keys. They dropped them in the water, retrieved them hurriedly, and escorted us out of the cell. I tried to take my wheelchair. I could not take it. I was too weak to exit the cell by myself. Two other inmates helped me swim through the water.

We were evacuated upstairs to a gymnasium, which was dry, on the third floor, but it was even hotter and more steamy than the cell block had been. We had these contaminated clothing on. We spent our last night there with about a hundred men in that gym without toilet facilities. We had to use the bathroom, and ultimately we banged on the door until they threw a trash bag in and told us to urinate and defecate in that bag. Until the next morning, we stayed there.

And they evacuated us by boats that next morning to a roadway overpass on Broad Street, at which time we were in the direct sunlight all day from around 10:00 a.m. until the sun went down, waiting for prison buses to arrive, begging — and dehydrated, and begging for food, begging for water, begging for medications, life-saving medications, all to no avail.

The responsibility for loading the buses as they arrived was delegated to prison trustees. And instead of —

AMY GOODMAN: Other prisoners.

RODERICK DEAN: Other prisoners. And they were supposed to load the buses in priority of the medical unit, my ward, first. But that did not happen. They got their friends on first. I was overlooked, and it took several times of me screaming and hollering at the guards that, you know, I was a medical prisoner, and they were not putting medical prisoners on board. Around the time the sun went down, I was finally able to get the attention of a guard and get on board.

AMY GOODMAN: And they brought you where, these buses?

RODERICK DEAN: First I went to the Hunt Correctional Center, where I spent a total of about one hour.

AMY GOODMAN: This near Jena?

RODERICK DEAN: I don’t know the structurally — demographics of the state of Louisiana. I think it’s close to Jena, yeah. We stayed there in the grassy field, several hundred inmates, for about an hour, where we got a stale baloney sandwich and a stale piece of cake and a half a Dixie cup of water. We began a riot over the lack of water. We were extremely dehydrated. The prison warden averted the riot by allowing us to have all the water we wanted. I drank over a gallon of water, at which time we went back on buses and rode overnight to Winn Correction Center in northern Louisiana, Winnfield, where I would remain in custody until December 8, 2005.

AMY GOODMAN: Four months. You had never been arraigned now?

RODERICK DEAN: I have never been arraigned, ever.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, the last day in Winn Correctional Facility, they brought you back to New Orleans?

RODERICK DEAN: Yes. On the morning of December the 8th, 2005, around 4:30 in the morning, I was awakened by a guard kicking the foot of my bed. When I woke up and saw him standing there, he asked me am I Roderick Dean. I says, “Yes, I am.” He says, “Gather your belongings. The bus is waiting to take you back to Orleans Parish jail. You’re being released.” I said, “Well, I haven’t had any food since 4:00 p.m. yesterday at dinner. Can I go eat breakfast in thirty minutes, then, you know, get on the bus?” He told me, no, that the bus was running, and I had to leave. And I got no food or water on December the 8th. I got on the bus. We went back to OPP, got back about 1:00 p.m. —

AMY GOODMAN: Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans.

RODERICK DEAN: — stayed in their holding cell there for about four hours. I was cut loose around 5:00 p.m. at dusk from the jail, at which time I asked the guards, did I need to come back to court or have a court date. And they said, “No. No court date, no charges.” And they cut me loose into the city, that I didn’t recognize at that time with — that was under curfew. It was under lockdown. It was under martial law. And it was totally abandoned, minus the, you know, gangs roaming the streets, that I heard reports of sniping and killing, and so forth.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Four months in prison without charge. You come out of prison, you ultimately run for mayor against Mayor Nagin.


AMY GOODMAN: But we’re going to leave it there. You’ve sued the city?

RODERICK DEAN: Yes. I’ve sued the city. I have the defendants listed: the warden of the prisons; Richard Stalder, Secretary of the State Department of Corrections; the Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman; Mayor Ray Nagin; Governor Kathleen Blanco; Attorney General Charles Foti; the warden Timothy Wilkerson of Winn Correction Center; Police Chief Eddie Compass; Police Chief Warren Riley; District Attorney Eddie Jordan.

AMY GOODMAN: And we will follow your case. Roderick Dean, thanks for joining us.

RODERICK DEAN: Thank you. My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We’re broadcasting from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. When we come back, another story. It’s one that has been floating around the city for several years, since the hurricane hit: the shootings on the Danziger Bridge.

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