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Monday, May 27, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bureaucratic Bungling, Thy Name is FEMA

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - FEMA's incompetence after Hurricane Katrina got a man thrown in prison for 3 years, the man claims in Federal Court. Clarence Lorio says FEMA was put in charge of the city's justice system after the disaster, and because it sent a notice to an incorrect address, his parole was revoked and he had to spend 3 more years in prison.

Lorio was convicted in 1994 of distribution of cocaine and sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced to 15 years on appeal. He was released in March 2001 for good behavior, and put on supervised parole until September 2008. He says he fully complied with terms of his parole until Hurricane Katrina hit.

After the mass evacuation, "the criminal justice system for the City of New Orleans was in organizational shambles. City personnel were scattered, and the parole system and its means for tracking parolees were in utter disarray," Lorio says.

"As a result, there was no central system set up to maintain and monitor parolees and their whereabouts. Aside from the pre-storm contact information, which was no longer of any use due to storm damage to the relevant facilities and the absence of certain vital employees, parolees were not given alternative means to reach their parole supervisors after the storm.

"Consequently, the City of New Orleans became dependent upon defendant, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ('FEMA'), as the clearinghouse for information on the location of city parolees."

To make matters even more confusing, Lorio says, he parole officer quit immediately after Katrina hit.

Lorio says he was evacuated by plane and sent to a Houston hospital, where he stayed for 2 weeks. He was declared 100 percent disabled by the Social Security system in 2002, he adds. After being released from the hospital, he was sent to the Houston Reliance Center for "several weeks," then lived in a church for "a few weeks," and finally found an apartment, where he lived until he could return to New Orleans. He says, "FEMA sent direct rental assistance payments to plaintiff's landlord every month," at his Houston address.

In February 2006, he says, the New Orleans Office of Probation and Parole asked FEMA for his address. Despite having his correct address, and cell phone number, Lorio says, FEMA provided the parole department with the wrong address, a place where he "had never lived nor stayed."

The parole office sent an appointment letter to that address, which, not surprisingly, Lorio never got. When he missed the appointment set in that letter, an arrest warrant was issued and "In September 2006, plaintiff, who had not committed any crime and was unaware that there was a warrant for his arrest, was stopped in a mall by a Houston police officer and then ordered to show his identification. Immediately upon discovering that there was an outstanding warrant, the police took plaintiff into custody and extradited him to Louisiana."

To top off the bureaucratic bungling, Lorio says, "Despite negligently providing the parole officer with the incorrect Braesmain Drive address, FEMA continued to send rental assistance payments to plaintiff's correct address at the Southmore Place Apartments until his incarceration in the fall of 2006.

"On November 30, 2006, plaintiff's parole was officially revoked and he was subsequently imprisoned to serve the remainder of his original 15-year sentence.

"FEMA's failure to provide the correct address to the parole office representative was a direct and the only cause of the revocation of plaintiff's parole.

"Plaintiff remained in prison until March 30, 2010, when he was released for good behavior, although he remains on supervised parole through 2013."

Lorio seeks "reasonable damages as compensation for his time spent in prison and on extended parole that resulted from the negligence of defendant."

He is represented by Andrew Kramer.

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