On a glorious September day, death row inmate Paul “Cool” Hardy returns to a federal court in New Orleans – the city he helped to terrorize 15 years ago.

Now 43, Hardy doesn’t easily fit the image of a drug-dealing hit man inside what a federal prosecutor once called a “police death squad.” Flanked by attorneys, he waits for his two-day mental competency hearing to resume.

“All rise!” a bailiff cries. Hardy obediently stands for returning U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.

“Have the cuffs been loosened up on you, Mr. Hardy?” the judge asks. Hardy enthusiastically nods yes.

Expert testimony resumes over whether Hardy is too mentally disabled to die for his role in the police-orchestrated murder of Kim Marie Groves on Oct. 13, 1994.

Groves, the mother of three children and a part-time security guard at the Superdome, was murdered after NOPD Officer Len Davis learned she had filed a brutality complaint against him with the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

Using his police car and a cell phone, Davis, along with Hardy and a third man, conspired to kill the witness, prosecutors alleged.

Hours before Groves’ murder, Police Superintendent Richard Pennington was sworn-in at Gallier Hall. Subsequent FBI investigations revealed alliances of drug dealers and corrupt cops, brutality and ineptitude. Scores of cops were jailed, fired or forced out of NOPD.

Pennington disbanded IAD, which was replaced by what is now the Public Integrity Bureau. The chief pledged to slash the murder rate in half, a goal he achieved, with the “police death squad out of action.” A federal jury sentenced Davis to die in 1996. He now resides at a federal prison in Indiana.

Fifteen years after the Groves murder, Hardy’s return fails to make news. New Orleans is consumed with fresh federal probes and the turmoil of fledgling city watchdog entities.

The day after Hardy’s hearing ends, the city’s first independent monitor of NOPD inexplicably resigns. Neely Moody of Tyrone, Ga., quit after just 30 days in office. The interim Inspector General who hired him is ousted by the city ethics board and exits, lobbing a report filled with explosive allegations of mismanagement by his predecessor at the OIG. Intrigue fills the air.

Two other troubled Nagin appointees resign the day that Moody departs. However, Nagin zeroes in on the Office of the Inspector General, which appoints the police monitor, and the OIG’s purported absence of accountability.

Adding to the confusion, new I.G. Ed Quatreveaux of Metairie takes office – then leaves on an unexpected five-week hiatus. Appointment of a new police monitor is postponed, indefinitely.

Meanwhile, racial tensions and political uncertainty mount as the 2010 elections near and the city faces a $46 million deficit.

Moreover, there are at least three federal probes of alleged police misconduct following Katrina. There is also the state legislative auditor’s investigation of the NOPD evidence room scandal, separate U.S. Justice Department allegations of prison violence, federal grand jury probe of the city’s crime cameras and who knows what else.

This much is clear – the city will pay a high price for the collective failure of Nagin, Riley and Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman to aggressively support the creation of separate independent monitors for the jail and NOPD. If they really wanted regular independent reports to the public on NOPD and the jails – monitors would have been appointed long ago.

Mary Howell, a veteran civil rights lawyer who represents the family of the late Kim Marie Groves, agrees.

“By now, you would be seeing results [from independent monitoring],” says Howell. “You wouldn’t be seeing these embarrassments. The whole point of an independent monitor is to catch these problems before they become an embarrassment or a scandal. A well-run jail isn’t that complicated. Having a well-run, disciplined police department isn’t all that complicated. Other cities have done it for years. Why do we have such protracted problems? This is solely a matter of leadership.”

Howell served on the city Police-Civilian Review Task Force, which first proposed the monitor for NOPD in 2002.

Warren Riley was appointed to the same panel, chaired by then-City Councilman Gusman. Mayor Marc Morial convened the blue-ribbon panel after the controversial Algiers police shooting of an unarmed black man in 2001.

The panel came up with sound ideas to save money, reduce liability and shore up public confidence in NOPD:

including mediation of minor complaints by citizens, who didn’t want to get cops into serious trouble.

In addition, the panel adopted an FBI recommendation to endorse hiring of legal counsel for NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau to improve the quality of disciplinary cases. Civil rights lawyers agreed.

The idea was never implemented, even after NOPD received tens of millions of dollars for police pay raises, training and education incentives after Hurricane Katrina.

In 2004, Nagin said he didn’t see a need for the proposed independent monitor. He cited the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to end its eight-year supervision of NOPD as evidence of a force embracing reform. Police Chief Eddie Compass insisted that NOPD could police itself.

He resigned in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina.

In November 2005, responding to his first question from a reporter as the new chief of NOPD, Riley said he would “absolutely” support an independent police monitor. The mayor relented, but didn’t press the issue.

In August, 2009, Riley recommended Moody for monitor, after a bungled selection process. The angry crowd gets only one hour to meet the four finalists for the job.

“This isn’t our process,” activist Barbara Jackson tells the candidates, adding. “We have lost a lot of loved ones to violence and to police brutality,”

Later, one candidate says, rhetorically, “The question is: Do you trust your police department?”
“No!” protesters retort.

Chief Riley, who has fired 107 cops in four years, sighs.

 Gusman, who defeated Riley for the sheriff’s office in 2004, still has no independent monitor for the jails, a campaign promise he made to the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition. The Sheriff reaffirms his “support” for oversight, following a national report in February of high prison death rates.

September comes. A scathing Justice Department report alleges a pattern of prison violence and maltreatment of mentally ill inmates. “Half-truths,” Gusman angrily tells reporters. The sheriff has no independent monitor report to support his claims of progress.

Gusman has a mixed record with watchdogs. In 1998, as Morial’s Chief Administrative Officer, Gusman shut down two ongoing probes by the Office of Municipal Investigation: including the alleged fudging of police crime statistics in the Pennington administration.

Top OMI agents filed for whistleblower protection, fearing for their jobs. At the time, he dismissed both the reports and the agents’ claims of interference as baseless. Begun in 1982 at the urging of the late Mayor Dutch Morial, OMI never conducted a major probe again. The City Council abolished OMI in December 2008.

By late September, the promise of police and jail oversight remains unfilled.

At a recent public meeting, activist Fannie McKnight, 69, confronts weary City Councilman James Carter, the council chair on criminal justice issues. “You have to stand for the truth or the lie!” McKnight says, 15 years after a “police death squad” murdered Kim Marie Groves.