NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans police officer was suspended Wednesday after a video surfaced showing the policeman apparently standing by while a group of men and women fought violently on Canal Street.
Cortez Hankton, a 28-year veteran of the department, was suspended without pay. His attorney, Ray Burkart III, said he’s accused of neglect of duty and failure to perform his duty.
In the video, posted Sept. 8 to YouTube, Hankton is seen standing by a store’s window, talking on his radio, while two women beat each other and pull each other’s hair. At the same time, it also shows two men punching each other as another officer tries to break them up.
The New Orleans Advocate reports (http://bit.ly/19fU1bJ ) Burkhart said the video shows his client used his radio a number of times to call for backup.
Hankton, however, did not intervene in the fight between the women until one of the men walked up and threw punches that appeared to hit both of the women in the face. At that point two female officers arrived and broke up the brawl. A few moments later, Hankton handcuffed one of the men.
Watch video of the fight below:
Burkart said Hankton did his best to contain the two women until backup arrived but was hesitant to break up the fight for fear of being accused of using too much force. He said the emergency suspension was an overreaction that should be used only when officers illegally discharge their weapons or are arrested.
“He is in no way, shape or form of danger to the public. These officers were doing the best they could,” Burkart said.
Police Chief Ronal Serpas, at a news conference later Wednesday, said he took action against Hankton after watching the video.
“I’ve lost confidence at this time in his ability to perform the duties necessary to protect the people of New Orleans and to protect fellow officers,” Serpas said. “No one, no one, can watch this two-plus minute film and believe that Officer Hankton did all that he could, including all he could do physically, to stop two citizens from pummeling one another.”
He said Hankton’s inaction is magnified by the fact that the second officer on the scene, John Dobard, physically engages the two men on the fringes of the fight, even as one of the men grabs Dobard by the neck.
“I believe anybody who looks at that film can draw their own conclusions from what they saw,” Serpas said.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued a statement later Wednesday supporting Serpas’ decision.
“This officer’s inaction is immensely troubling to me and well below the standard I expect from officers in our police department,” Landrieu said. “We have zero tolerance for an officer who fails to protect our citizens. I support the Chief’s decision to act quickly to suspend this officer and launch an investigation into the matter.”