By Matt Sledge | NOLA.com | June 11, 2021
New Orleans police monitor Susan Hutson resigned Friday, barely a month after she began a leave of absence to run in the Oct. 9 election against Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
The resignation was announced in an email and takes effect Monday, leaving Hutson’s small agency, which oversees internal investigations at the Police Department, in the hands of an interim chief. Hutson didn’t explain her decision but hinted it was connected to her bid for sheriff.
“I have poured my heart and soul into this office to serve this amazing community,” Hutson said. “Yet with all that this office, our community and a bevy of stakeholders have achieved in the past 11 years, the work to emphasize justice over criminal in the criminal justice system is far from over. Now, more than ever, our system of justice requires a new level of civic engagement.”
Qualifying for the ballot begins July 14. Gusman has said he plans to run for a fifth full term, while Hutson seems poised to run against him as a progressive alternative.
Hutson’s term as independent police monitor expires at the end of the year. She would have needed approval from the Ethics Review Board to serve another.
In April, she said she would take leave from the Office of the Independent Police Monitor until the sheriff’s race was decided in either the Oct. 9 primary or Nov. 13 runoff.
At a May 10 Ethics Review Board meeting, board members praised her tenure. But Chairman Michael Cowan also wondered aloud whether the length of Hutson’s absence would hurt a perennially short-staffed office, and whether the board should seek a new monitor.
“We’re really behind the eight ball on getting someone in place,” Cowan said. “What I propose to the board is that we initiate a search for police monitor, and if Ms. Hutson wants to be part of that in a timely way, then I would be really happy if she would.”
Hutson said the office would be run well by its interim director, Stella Cziment, who previously served as her deputy.
The board didn’t vote last month on Cowan’s proposal. The agenda for Monday’s pending meeting doesn’t include a vote, but it is expected to include further discussion about how to respond to Hutson’s absence.
The board’s executive administrator, Dane Ciolino, said none of its members pushed Hutson to resign.
“I was unaware of anybody bringing any pressure upon her to do anything,” Ciolino said.
The board did receive at least one outside complaint, however. Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, said in a May 11 email to Cowan that Hutson’s independence would be “irreparably compromised” if she ran for sheriff, lost and returned as top monitor.
Goyeneche suggested that if a group such as the Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Gusman, as it did in his 2014 race, that could taint her credibility upon a return to the police monitor’s office.
A spokesman for Hutson said she resigned in order to give her “more leeway in terms of the next steps,” and promised an announcement Monday.
“Susan wants to make sure that the campaign that she may be embarking on in the days to come is clear and above board and there are no obstacles to the message she wants to convey,” said the spokesman, Mason Harrison.
Cziment said Friday that the office will continue taking complaints about the Police Department and watchdogging police investigations.
“Susan will be missed, but I don’t want anyone to believe that there’s going to be a gap in services to the community,” she said. “She trained us and prepared us for the idea of an eventual departure, and we feel ready.”