The most disturbing tale I’ve heard about Hurricane Katrina (which hit New Orleans in 2005) comes from Memorial Medical Centre. Patients, from terminally ill to those needing minor treatment, were allegedly euthanized by medical staff. The doctor believed to have led it, Anna Pou, walked free after a grand jury refused to indict her, following negative public reaction against her arrest in 2006. Charles Foti, the New Orleans Attorney General who led the case, was not re-elected in 2007, with Pou’s prosecution said to have swayed voters away.
For the last four years, the Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans and CNN have been fighting to release Foti’s investigation into Memorial. Earlier this month, the court ruled against them, siding with current Orleans Parish District Attorney [Leon Cannizzaro] by citing a “state law allowing prosecutors to keep secret records in criminal cases where prosecution is “pending or reasonably anticipated.”
Meaning: the prosecutor may “get lucky” (actual quote) and new evidence could emerge. Meaning they can’t release the file.
This argument could be applied to every criminal investigation in legal history.
It’s been well-documented in Pro Publica’s Sheri Fink’s chilling investigation into Memorial that public appetite for Pou’s prosecution was not high. As the Assistant DA, Michael Morales, told Fink:
“…he [Morales] and the Orleans Parish district attorney, Eddie Jordan, ‘‘weren’t gung-ho’’ about prosecuting the case. ‘‘We were going to give some deference to the defendant,’’ he said, because Pou wasn’t the usual career criminal accused of murder.”
Fink points out that, while the grand jury’s decision not to indict was fundamentally flawed because they were not presented with all evidence, few New Orlean natives desired a guilty verdict:
“Rather than presenting the evidence to the jurors and seeking an indictment, as he typically did, he said he invited the jurors, in conjunction with the district attorney’s office, to act as investigators and decide what evidence they wanted to consider. This didn’t sit well with the attorney general [Foti] and his staff. Foti told me that he repeatedly asked the district attorney’s office to present all the evidence and the experts. Grand-jury hearings are conducted in secret, making it difficult to know exactly what jurors hear. Minyard [the city's elected coroner] told me that in the end, he decided that four of the nine deaths on the seventh floor were homicides, including Emmett Everett and Rose Savoie. Until now, he has never publicly revealed that conclusion. He also said of Pou, ‘‘I strongly do not believe she planned to kill anybody, but it looks like she did.’’ The jury heard from Minyard but not from any of his forensic experts; nor from two family members who were present on the LifeCare floor during most of the ordeal; nor the main Justice Department investigator, who worked the case for a year and helped collect 50,000 pages of evidence…The grand jurors lived among the general public, which was firmly in Pou’s corner. Pou had one of New Orleans’s premier public-relations agencies representing her. A poll commissioned by her lawyer’s office to assess the potential jury pool found that few New Orleanians favored indictment.”
Why are Cannizzaro and Buddy Caldwell (New Orleans Attorney General) determined to keep the file from the public? Currently, Cannizzaro’s office is unpopular among New Orleanians. It is known for a string of “Brady violations” (when a prosecutor withholds evidence from the defence that could sway the trial’s eventual verdict i.e. proving a defendant’s innocence). Releasing the file to the public would mean reopening the debate about whether Pou should go on trial for homicide again. This would be an unpopular decision among all but Pou’s victims. For Cannizzaro, already struggling with his office’s image among the public, it would be opening Pandora’s box.
“In the four years since Katrina, Pou has helped write and pass three laws in Louisiana that offer immunity to health care professionals from most civil lawsuits — though not in cases of willful misconduct — for their work in future disasters, from hurricanes to terrorist attacks to pandemic influenza.”
Sheri Fink’s investigation is one of the most thorough I’ve ever read. It’s forensic in its detail. I’m willing to bet that it’s accurate. So why hasn’t Pou been properly prosecuted? Why have more questions not been asked? Has the groundswell of public sympathy stopped victims’ families from getting justice?
I haven’t verified if this relates to the same dossier that CNN/Time-Picayune were seeking (I’m pretty sure it is the same one but I need to check before I can confirm) but in her investigation, Fink says Pou filed a brief with the Louisiana Supreme Court “opposing the release of a 50,000-page file assembled by investigators on deaths at Memorial.” If it’s legitimate, this court document suggests it is. Note the first paragraph: “Several healthcare professionals, who worked at Tenet-Memorial during and after Hurricane Katrina and who referred to themselves only as Jane and John Does, filed petitions seeking a declaratory judgment that the AG and DA investigative files are not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act. Named as defendants were the AG, the DA, the Orleans Parish Coroner, Rose Agnes Savoie (a LifeCare patient who died at Tenet-Memorial in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), CNN, Times-Picayune, and “all other persons or entities who have made requests under the Louisiana Public Records Act.” In response, CNN and Times-Picayune filed a cross-claim and a motion for a writ of mandamus and preliminary injunction seeking to compel the release of the investigative file. Several interested parties (including the Louisiana State Board of Nursing, Lori Budo, Cheri Landry, LifeCare Hospitals of New Orleans, LLC, Tenet-Memorial, and Dr. Anna Pou) were allowed to intervene.”
Why does Pou want to block the release of the file? What does she have to hide? What does she not want people to know?
I’m raising more questions than I’m answering here (that’s why I’m posting this as a #mucklead rather than a #muckread).
If you’re a journalist interested in following up this lead, you might consider doing a network analysis of all the key players in the case. By this, I mean identifying any connections between Pou and Leon Cannizzaro, Orleans Attorney General Buddy Caldwell (who has also opposed releasing the files) and the judges who ruled against CNN and Times-Picayune: Burrell Carter, Jimmy Gaidry, Toni Higgingbotham, Page McClendon. [Note: A fifth judge, Duke Welch, dissented]. Any local reporters in New Orleans who want to take up the cause? If you have any other suggestions for reporters researching this story, please add them in comments below.
Something doesn’t seem right here. May someone find out what it is.