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Nathan Brown awarded compensation for wrongful imprisonment

A state judge has ruled a Metairie man, who spent 17 years in prison for an attempted rape he did not commit, is entitled to up to $330,000 in compensation.  40-year-old Nathan Brown was released from prison in June after DNA tests proved his innocence. 

Innocence Project New Orleans attorney Kristin Wenstrom says Brown is not immediately eligible for the entire sum.
"The way the statute is written is $25,000 per year of wrongful incarceration, but it is capped at $250,000.  So he isn't getting compensated for every year he was in prison."
Brown is entitled to petition the court for an additional $80,000 for loss of life opportunities.  Wenstrom says that additional money can be for medical expenses, education, and job training.
"We need to either spend it or get a plan for the expenses.  Then we petition the court for it and ask for the compensation and get a new judgment.  And then you to the Commission on Law Enforcement and you ask for a check and you wait for months."
Wenstrom says this money doesn't make up for 17 years of wrongful incarceration, but it will help Brown restart his life.
"He left prison with, literally, the clothes on his back and that's it.  So, imagine being a grown man walking out and you're starting with nothing.  You have nothing.  You have no foundation, whatsoever."
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POLL: Marijuana support keeps growing

Michelle Southern reporting.
According a recent Public Policy Poll, support for marijuana reform continues to grow in Louisiana. The survey done last week of a sampling of registered voters here found that 78% oppose sentences of longer than 6 months for pot possession -- up from 59% last year.

"It's really time to recognize that the voters of Louisiana are not interested in locking people up for possessing marijuana," says Louisiana American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Marjorie Esman.

According to the results, 71% oppose life sentences for marijuana possession up from 65% last year. Esman says 2/3 of those surveyed also acknowledged they knew someone who has ever been in possession of marijuana.

"And I suspect the numbers are actually higher and that because there are people who don't want to admit it and also people who don't know that they know someone," said Esman.

The survey also shows that 68% of people support letting certain seriously ill patients use medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription -- up 3% from last year.

Esman believes the numbers are rising because people are starting to realize that Louisiana is so out of sync with the rest of the country on this issue.

"Also because there was a medical marijuana bill this last legislative session, it didn't pass, but people are talking about it now," said Esman.

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Port Allen restaurant offering patrons with guns a discount makes national headlines

Michelle Southern reporting.
A restaurant in Port Allen is getting national attention for a sign hanging up informing customers packing heat they get a 10 percent discount. The owner of Bergeron's Restaurant, Kevin Cox, says he originally had a sign posted offering law enforcement officers a discount for eating there.

"When I first started that so many of my other customers were showing me their guns," said Cox. "I started thinking about how good it made me feel to have people eating here with their guns so I decided to change the program."

The sign says, "Thank you for carrying your gun today, 10% Discount."

Cox said the support he's been hearing from people all over the country has been phenomenal.

"People are coming in telling me that they've never been here before, but they just want to come in to let me know they support what we're doing," Cox said.

Cox says he's always felt that his establishment is safer when people bring their guns inside. He says they've been so busy since word of the promotion got out that parking at his Highway 415 West Baton Rouge location has been a problem. 

Cox says he hasn't heard a single negative thing about his gun toting discount program.

"This is a legal right, nothing's changed," said Cox. "Some of us who believe in the Constitution need to celebrate it a little louder."


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Seat Belt use in Louisiana at all time high

Michelle Southern reporting.
The state's annual survey of seat-belt use found that Louisiana motorists are buckling up at record high rates in 2014. The LA Highway Safety Commission says over 84% of drivers and front-seat passengers were buckled up which is up 1.6% from last year.

"Improvements in seat belt use I think can be attributed to aggressive law enforcement combined with our Click it Or Ticket Campaign," said LeBlanc. "It's a nationwide campaign to raise that awareness."

LeBlanc says this survey proves that we are on the right track in the work that's being done to save lives by increasing seat-belt use.

"But we do still have a lot of work to be done in certain demographics," said LeBlanc. "Males, African Americans and pickup truck drivers lag behind in buckling up -- in some cases considerably below state averages."

LeBlanc attributes much of the recent years' improvements in seat-belt use to Click It or Ticket, a nationwide enforcement and public information campaign. 

He says state law says everyone in your car needs to be restrained and it's one of the best way to protect lives.

"Everytime you drive or ride in a vehicle, bucking up is probably one of the simplest things you can do to remain safe," said LeBlanc.

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"Move Over" signs going up across the state

Louisiana State Police and the Department of Transportation announce the installation of several “Move Over for Emergency Vehicle” signs across the state. Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson says the signs are a reminder of the state’s “Move Over” law.

"If you see flashing lights on the side of the road, whether it's flashers from a car or emergency flashers, you either slow down if you're in a two lane road, if you're in a multi-lane road then you move over to the left side"
The “Move Over” law requires drivers, when approaching a stopped vehicle utilizing warning lights, to change to a non-adjacent lane to the parked vehicle. If a lane change is not possible, you should slow down before passing the stopped vehicle. Edmonson says if someone is broken down on the side of the road, that person is owed certain amount of consideration.
"To give them all of the caution that they can.  If they're having problems or if it's an emergency vehicle or police that's involved in an incident, give them the ability to be protected in that area."
More first responders are killed by traffic crashes than by any other line-of-duty cause. The “Move Over” law not only applies to first responders, but also to highway workers, tow truck operators, and any vehicle utilizing hazard lights. Edmonson says the signs are going up to bring awareness to the “Move Over” law and hopefully save lives. 
"It simply says it's a state law and you move over for emergency vehicles, you move over for vehicles that are flashing lights that you see on the side of the road."
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2014 Pet owners dishing out the dough for Fido

Michelle Southern reporting.
According to a study by the American Pet Products Association (or APPA), people are spending more money on their furry friends than ever before. They estimate overall spending on pets for 2014 will reach $58 billion which is up almost 5 percent over last year. 

"They're spending more money on dog care, on doggy grooming, on vet checkups," says Louisiana SPCA spokeswoman Alicia Haefele. "People are really starting to treat their pets as family members."

Bob Vetere (Va-Teery) is the president and CEO of APPA. He says over the last several years they've seen people "humanizing" their pets and you can date it back to the recession times.

"People found that the one constant in their lives as everything else was crumbling down around them was Sparky and Fluffy and their family pet," said Vetere.

He says people are thinking of their pets almost like they would a child and don't think of rewarding "Fido" in pet terms, but rather in human terms.

"Human terms cost more than pet terms," says Vetere. "This nice new collar costs more than a little tennis ball. As a result that total spending curve will continue to go up."


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Abortion doctors still working to get admitting privileges

A federal judge receives an update today on how much progress abortion providers have made when it comes to obtaining privileges to admit patients at local hospitals. A state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges has been put on hold.

Center for Reproductive Rights attorney, Janet Crepps, says the doctors they represent they still have applications pending.
"And they still haven't heard from several of the hospitals where they have submitted their applications," Crepps said.

Louisiana's new abortion restrictions law was set to go into effect September first, but a US judge in New Orleans blocked enforcement, so abortion clinic doctors can obtain privileges. Crepps says since the doctors they represent haven't made much progress, she expects the judge to rule  legal abortions can continue.
"Both sides have indicated that the appropriate timing for the next hearing maybe after the beginning of the next year, January or February."
There's five abortion clinics in the state, but Crepps says only one doctor in Shreveport has adequate admitting privileges. She doesn't suspect hospitals are purposely dragging their feet when it comes to reviewing applications from the other doctors.
"Just natural process of trying to get privileges takes weeks or months and so at this point we don't think the hospitals have done anything out of the ordinary." 
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Harris named starting QB for Auburn game

True freshman Brandon Harris is the new starting QB at LSU. Coach Les Miles says Harris deserves a chance to start this Saturday against fifth ranked Auburn after leading the Tigers on seven consecutive touchdown drives against New Mexico State. 

Harris also rushed for two touchdowns as LSU scored in all seven positions that he was in at quarterback.
LSU Head Coach Les Miles says Harris made quality decisions with the football and likes his ability to ad-lib 
"He's a guy that is really fast and a guy that can really throw the ball. You put him in a quality position to extend a play, some good things can happen."  
Harris will make his first collegiate start at Auburn and raucous crowd is expected for this SEC West clash. Miles expects Harris and the rest of the team to handle the hostile environment well.
"Our guys have been through hostile environments before. The noise is, in my opinion, a distraction and the game is certainly that piece that needs to be focused on. I think our guys will get that."  

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LAE challenges funding for certain charter schools

The Louisiana Association of Educators has filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of using public school budget money to fund certain types of charter schools.  $60 million from the budget, also known as the MFP, has been designated to fund those charter schools.  

LAE President Debbie Meaux says the Louisiana Constitution is clear on this issue.
"Article VIII, Section 13 (B) of the Louisiana Constitution requires monies from the MFP program flow into parish and city school systems.  And that's all it provides for."
She says the charter schools in question are schools not controlled by city or parish school boards and, therefore, not eligible for funds from the public school budget.  LAE successfully challenged the funding of voucher schools in 2012.  Meaux is hopeful this lawsuit will produce similar results. 
"Of course, we can never predict what the courts will say, however we think we have pretty strong, solid background and basis to base the lawsuit upon."
Education Superintendent John White says this lawsuit is a money grab for unions and school boards and an attempt to keep parents from choosing the school they think is best for their children. 
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CNN poll shows tight US Senate race in Louisiana

A new poll on Louisiana's US Senate race shows democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu winning the primary, but trailing by three-percentage points in a runoff with republican Bill Cassidy. CNN poll has Landrieu leading Cassidy in the primary, 43-to-40 percent and republican Rob Maness has nine percent.

ULM political science professor Joshua Stockley says a closer look at the survey, which was conducted last week, also shows Landrieu will have to make sure registered democratic voters get to the polls and she needs more support from white voters.
"The poll indicated that Cassidy has a 71-to-26 percent lead among whites, that's phenomenal," Stockley said.
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Lawmakers not happy about hospitals billing rape victims for treatment

Michelle Southern reporting.
There is a group of Louisiana lawmakers and other state leaders expressing outrage about Louisiana hospitals charging rape victims for care. Among them is Slidell Representative Kevin Pearson. He says it's completely wrong that women who have reported sexual assault are getting these massive hospital bills.

"The perpetrator will get free healthcare for life once he's in jail but the victims are the ones are paying for treatment of these crimes," said Pearson.

A standard rape kit at a hospital has to be free under federal law, but hospitals can still charge for HIV testing, pregnancy testing or medication that could prevent a rape victim from getting an STD.

Pearson says it would be terrible if a woman didn't report assault because she's scared of the hospital bill.

"This is the very least of a service that we as a state and nation should provide," says Pearson.

Pearson believes part of the reason this is happening is because Louisiana privatized state hospitals which previously covered all medical expenses for rape victims. He says rape separates itself from other types of violent crimes because they so very often go unreported.

"I think stabbing victims report the crime 100% of the time and rape victims don't," said Pearson. "This is is the last thing we want them worrying about."

He says they are calling for legislative action to address this issue.

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Saints fall to 1-3 with lopsided loss in Big D

The Saints had an opportunity to move into a first place tie in the NFC South with a win last night in Dallas, instead New Orleans got off to a slow start and lost to the Cowboys 38-17. It took until the fourth quarter for the Saints to score a touchdown, while the defense allowed Tony Romo to throw for three touchdowns and DeMarco Murray to rush for 149 yards.

"There's not going to be much good to see on this film," Saints head coach Sean Payton said. "We are one 1-and-3 right now and that's how we are playing."

With Atlanta and Carolina both losing on Sunday, a win for the Saints would have put them at 2-2 and in a tie for first place in the NFC South. Instead, the Saints are tied for last in the division with Tampa Bay at 1-3.
"It's not where you want to be, one quarter through the season," Payton said. "We have to closely at the reasons why we are not winning." 
One of those reasons is the lack of turnovers. For the third straight game, the Saints failed to force a turnover, while the offense coughed up the football three times on Sunday night. 
The Cowboys were also 8-of-14 on 3rd downs and rushed for 190 yards.
The Saints host Tampa Bay this Sunday. 
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Comments show overwhelming support for Fort Polk

According to the Army Environmental Command, Fort Polk has received the most supporting public comments of any of the 30 Army bases across the country facing military cutbacks.  Michael Reese, with Fort Polk Progress, says last year during this process, the military received about 8,000 comments with over half coming from Fort Polk.

"This year, out of 30 bases, the Army received about 111,000 responses.  Of those, Fort Polk submitted about 34,000, which made us, once again, the most responsive base community in the country."
The Vernon Parish Army base avoided significant cutbacks last year, losing only about 250 troops.  Reese says they learned last year that community support of the base makes a big difference.
"Like any other business entity, they want to be located where they're wanted and where they're supported most."
The public comment period is the first step in the military's force reduction process.  The report lists Fort Polk's maximum troop reduction at 6,500, out of a current military population of just under 11,000.  Reese says the next step of the process is a public listing session in March.
"Leaders of the Pentagon will come down and hear from citizens, community leaders, elected officials from across Louisiana, and our federal delegation to, once again, reinforce all the investments that we've made, what we have planned, and reiterate the commitment we have for Fort Polk."
Reese says the Army will make an announcement next June.
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Cassidy releases new TV spot

US Senate candidate Republican Congressman Bill Cassidy releases a television ad today featuring former supporters of incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu.  In the spot, three women say they will not vote for Landrieu this year because of her support of the Affordable Care Act.

Political analyst Bernie Pinsonat says this is a good move on the part of Cassidy.
"Running ads pointing out that Mary Landrieu voted for Obamacare is his ticket to winning this election."
One of the women says she voted for Landrieu before, but when the Senator voted for Obamacare she knew she'd made a mistake.  Pinsonat says Obamacare is the main issue of this Senate race. 
"It's the issue that I would close this election with.  It's the issue that's going to make the difference for him that stops her from winning in the primaries."
Another woman states that she'll vote for Cassidy because he'll stand up to President Obama.  Pinsonat says President Obama and Obamacare remain extremely unpopular in Louisiana.  He says attaching Landrieu to Obama is a smart strategy for Cassidy.
"To run ads linking Mary to Barak Obama or Obamacare, that's the best offense he can have."

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Vitter actively campaigning against Landrieu

US Senator David Vitter will campaign this weekend against his colleague in the senate, democrat Mary Landrieu. Vitter knocked on doors in Baton Rouge Saturday morning, with representatives of the national anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony list. UL Lafayette Political Science Professor Pearson Cross says it's uncommon for a US Senator to actively campaign against the other Senator from their state. 
"You don't really go after your colleagues in the senate directly, you might support their opponents covertly, but in this case there's no covert about it."
Landrieu is Catholic and has said she believes women should have the right to make their own decisions over whether to terminate their pregnancy. Cross says for many voters, a candidate's view on abortion helps them decide who to vote for.
"One of things about the abortion issue, for people to whom it makes a difference, it's the single issue that will decide their vote."
Cross says it's also rare for a sitting US Senator to spend time knocking on the doors of voters' homes.
"Maybe in Wyoming, where you probably could meet all of the electorate over a six-year period." 
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Commission looking at death penalty costs

New Orleans Senator JP Morrell leads a new study commission trying to determine how much Louisiana agencies spend on the death penalty.  Morrell, a Democrat, says the idea came to mind when the current combination of drugs used for lethal injection became unavailable and seeing what happened in other states.

"The chemical composition that they were basically making on the fly to try and replace the existing protocols led to botched executions, exposing those states to millions of dollars in liability under the Constitution for cruel and unusual punishment."
Morrell says they want to find out if it is too expensive for the state to enforce the death penalty.  He says several factors must be considered when determining the cost of the death penalty. 
"What's the price tag on putting someone on death row, running through all the various appeals, and, ultimately, what's the cost of executing them?"
He says, right now, when the state budget is so bad, the actual cost of enforcing the death penalty should be considered.  Views differ widely on the topic.  Morrell says prosecutors will say the cost of executing someone is negligible, while defense attorneys say it cost millions of dollars. 
"And we're really just trying to get an accurate number as far as what that cost actually is."
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Saints and Cowboys meet in Big D on Sunday night

The Saints go after their second straight win on Sunday night when they visit the Dallas Cowboys. NFL Analyst Mike Detillier says for the Black and Gold to come away with a win, they have to slow down Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and the Saints have to establish their running game.

"You have to keep those weapons of Dallas, which is very impressive, off the field," Detillier said. "So that means offensive line play has to be strong again. Run the ball against the Cowboys and play some keep away."
The Saints have won the last three games played between these two teams. New Orleans scored 30 or more points in each contest and Detillier expects a lot of points to be scored on Sunday night. 
"Both teams will have some success throwing the football, the key here is which team can run the football better."
The Saints have lost their last five regular season road games, but Detillier says the Saints are 9-and-0 in Sunday night games, when Coach Sean Payton is on the sidelines.  
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Landrieu/Cassidy debate on debates

Michelle Southern reporting.
The debate about debates between US Senator Mary Landrieu and her main Republican Challenger Congressman Bill Cassidy rages on.

Cassidy, Landrieu and the other Republican challenger, Col Rob Maness, will appear together at a debate in Shreveport on October 14th and one in Baton Rouge on October 29th.

Cassidy has turned down all others saying Landrieu's record is well known so there is no need to debate the same issues over and over. 

"How many times do we need to go over that she votes with Obama 97% of the time, she was a key Obamacare vote and she has flown on taxpayer dollars making campaign trips," Cassidy says.

But Landrieu says Cassidy is afraid to debate which proves he wouldn't be strong enough to stand up in Washington and fight for the people of Louisiana.

"Because it's not easy to do and you've got to step up, sometimes alone, and take on some pretty powerful interests," Landrieu said.

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ACLU of Louisiana sues Abbeville Police Department over alleged free speech violations

Michelle Southern reporting.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana has filed a lawsuit against the Abbeville Police Department claiming they are violating the First Amendment with their social media policy. Executive Director Marjorie Esman says the rule basically states that employees can't post anything on social media which casts the city in a negative light.

"And doesn't really adequately define what that means," said Esman. "It's up to the mayor to decide what that means."

Esman says they filed the lawsuit on behalf of a man who says he made comments on his private Facebook page about working conditions at the Police Department. She says these employees could be banned from doing anything on social media because they don't know how the city would interpret the policy.

"We've asked them to cease the implementation of this policy because nobody understands what it means and it censors free speech," said Esman.

Colt Landry decided to take action because he felt the policy at the police station violated his right to free speech.

The Abbeville Police Department is not commenting on the suit.


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TPSO Sheriff Larpenter calls death of teen by deputy freak accident

The investigation into the shooting death of a 14-year-old allegedly by a Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's deputy continues today and Sheriff Jerry Larpenter is calling the incident a freak and tragic accident. He says the cops were responding to a report of armed men entering a house in a Houma subdivision where drugs have been a problem.

"The door within a few seconds was open with a suspect brandishing a weapon towards the deputy," said Larpenter. "In a few seconds he had to make a decision."

The weapon the teen had was reportedly a BB gun but family members are apparently saying the juvenile had no weapon. Larpenter says the incident could have been avoided.

"Whether they are juveniles or not," Larpenter said. "I don't know why anyone would want to be brandishing weapons knowing that people are going to call the cops."

Larpenter says he's spoken with the family of Cameron Tillman and it doesn't sound like he was a teenager who would be looking for trouble.

Louisiana State Police is investigating the incident.


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