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First Black District Attorney Elected In LA Office Criticized As Antiblack

It was a historic night in Louisiana's Caddo Parish on Saturday as James E. Stewart Sr. became the first black district attorney, reports the Shreveport Times. Stewart beat prosecutor Dhu Thompson to succeed the late Charles Rex Scott as DA. Stewart, a Democrat, got 55 percent of votes cast. Stewart entered the race in August after retiring as a state appeals court judge. 

Critics say the office aggressively pursues the death penalty and is racially biased in the jury selection process. They also question the quality of representation some on death row have received. "It is up to the next DA whether the media continues to highlight Caddo Parish as an outlier," said Rob Smith of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute at Harvard Law School, now a visiting scholar at the University of Texas. "f the new DA takes control of the situation and brings the parish more in line with the rest of Louisiana and the nation, then the media would probably stop treating it as an outlier."

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16 Shot At New Orleans Park As Gunfire Erupts At Block Party

Sixteen people were injured last night after gunfire erupted during a block party at a park in New Orleans, reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said he believed several people had fired into the crowd of more than 300. The gathering was part of an after party for an annual parade. Harrison described the party as an "unpermitted event."

A nurse who witnessed the event said two groups began shooting at each other around 6:15 p.m. "It was like New Year's Eve all over again," she said. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who joined Harrison at a press conference at the scene, said, "At the end of the day, it's really hard to police against a bunch of guys who decided to pull out guns and settle their disputes with 300 people in between them. It's not something you can tolerate in the city."

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Overwhelmed KY Public Defenders Mean Suspects Wrongly Imprisoned

The harried schedule of a Kentucky public defender juggling more than 30 cases underscores a problem the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy has grappled with for decades: Too many clients and not enough money mean public defenders are being stretched too thin, putting the quality of representation at risk, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. Tim Young, chairman of the National Association for Public Defense, said the constitutional issues for indigent defendants across the nation are serious: “It means people are going to prison for longer than they should. It means people are going to prison who shouldn’t. It means we’re spending vast sums of money incarcerating people who are not only innocent but never should have been in our system in the first place.”

Though no case has been filed in Kentucky, the American Civil Liberties Union and its affiliates have filed lawsuits against other states, counties and municipalities contending that they have deprived poor people of their right to an attorney. In Michigan and Montana, those efforts have already prompted legislative reforms. “Any state where we think there are significant, systemic problems – and it sounds like there are in Kentucky – is a state we are going to be looking at very, very closely,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU’s criminal law reform project. In fiscal year 2015, almost every staff public defender had a caseload that exceeded the maximum national standard. Kentucky has 333 public defenders in 33 offices to cover every court in all 120 counties. Some of those offices cover as many as eight counties, which forces some public defenders to drive thousands of miles each year just to reach courthouses, taking time away from arguing cases or talking to clients.

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Chicago Will Be In National Spotlight After Police Shooting Video Is Out

The expected release of a controversial video showing a white Chicago police officer fatally shooting an African-American teen will cast a spotlight on Chicago amid a raging national debate on police use of lethal force against minorities, says the Chicago Tribune. The police dashboard-cam video, expected to be out by Wednesday, allegedly captured the officer firing 16 rounds into Laquan McDonald, 17, many as he lay prone along a stretch of road. The city had opposed the release of the potentially inflammatory video, citing ongoing criminal investigations of officer Jason Van Dyke, but it dropped its opposition after a judge last week ordered that the video be made public by Wednesday.

Torreya Hamilton, a civil rights lawyer who has sued the Chicago Police Department, said the city's efforts to fight the release reflect a problem with transparency in contrast with some other places. In July, the Texas Department of Public Safety released dash-cam video weeks after an Illinois woman, Sandra Bland, was involved in a controversial traffic stop. Authorities ruled she committed suicide in jail. The same month, the Seattle Police Department released video of an officer shooting a knife-wielding suspect. The department policy since mid-2014 has been to release any "objective" evidence involving a major police-involved incident, said Brian Maxey, the department's chief operating officer. In Chicago, police said McDonald, who had PCP in his system when he died, was behaving erratically and refusing police commands to drop a 4-inch folding knife. The police union says the officer fired in fear of his life because the teen lunged at him and his partner with the knife.

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