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Law and order returning to New Orleans, but justice system still shaky

[JURIST] Federal and state officials said Saturday that with an influx of more National Guard troops and state police, civil authority had been restored to the New Orleans streets after a wave of crime and looting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but admitted that the justice system still faced difficulties. In remarks at the state Emergency Operations Center in Baton Rouge carried on WWL-TV [WWL-TV Katrina blog] in New Orleans, US Attorney Jim Letten [official profile] said that he brought a message from the President of the United States and the US Attorney General: "The city of New Orleans belongs to its citizens and not the thugs who have attempted to terrorize the citizens." He told reporters that federal prosecutors were on their way to Louisiana and would work "around the clock" to find, arrest and imprison people breaking federal law. "New Orleans is a city which does not have a traditional gang problem," Letten said. "But small groups of individuals almost exclusively involved in the drug trade have been controlling small pieces of blocks and buildings through ruthless violence. These are the individuals we are going to hunt down." The New Orleans Times-Picayune has more. James Bernazzani, the FBI Special Agent in charge of Louisiana, said that FBI tactical teams were moving around New Orleans working to secure vital locations, and that a gang task force was en route to help restore order.

Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti and state Department of Corrections Secretary Richard Stalder meanwhile announced that a temporary holding facility had been set up in New Orleans for prisoners transferred from Orleans Parish Prison and for persons arrested for looting and violence in the aftermath of the hurricane. Prison records, however, have to be reassembled. Said Stalder, "There are 7,100 people in our state prisons we don't know a lot about." Trials and prosecutions will also be problematic for a while. Foti said some misdemeanor trials might be able to start again in a couple of weeks, but "we will have some problem with trials by jury and locating witnesses." Letten nonetheless insisted that "the entire federal criminal justice system is open and operating... This is something extremely difficult, but difficult doesn't mean impossible." The Shreveport Times has more.

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