NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans prosecutors jailed at least six crime victims to make them testify last year, including a rape victim who was held for eight days, according to a new report.
Judges approved at least nine other material witness warrants for victims, but those people couldn't be found, Court Watch NOLA, which advocates for change in New Orleans' judicial system, said in its annual report.
"The decision to apply for a warrant to arrest a non-cooperative victim should not be made lightly," said the report released Tuesday. It noted that Houston District Attorney Kimberly Ogg promised never to jail a victim for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors.
"Her predecessor incarcerated a rape victim and the victim had a mental breakdown while testifying against her aggressor in court," the report said.
The nonprofit wants District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to limit requests for such warrants, and to drop them entirely for sexual assault or domestic violence victims.
"With police often finding community members unwilling to speak about the crimes they are victimized by, the threat of arrest and incarceration of victims can only exacerbate this problem," executive director of Court Watch NOLA Simone Levine wrote in a news release.
Noting that the report described only one jailed sex abuse or domestic violence victim, Cannizzaro is surprised that the group "focused so much of its resources and attention on an issue that, according to their report, only affected a single person," Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman wrote in an emailed statement.
He said Cannizzaro is more concerned about the 55 killings and 204 shootings so far this year.
Bowman did not immediately respond to questions about the number of material witness warrants sworn out for the arrest of crime victims in 2016 and other details about such warrants.
Levine said in an interview that her group's research was based on arrests described in the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office online public database as made under material witness warrants. Those may not always be listed, she said: "The sheriff's office might book the victim under a different charge for fear that the victim is going to be hurt."
During February and March, she said, she learned about three cases not described in the report, and another two people called Monday to say they had been jailed as material witnesses.
"We think there were many other material witness warrants that we don't know about," she said.