A federal judge on Tuesday overturned the convictions of five New Orleans police officers tied to the shooting of unarmed civilians during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, finding that prosecutors in the case had engaged in “grotesque” misconduct. In a blistering and meticulously detailed 129-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt found that federal prosecutors in New Orleans had anonymously posted damning online critiques of the accused officers and the New Orleans Police Department before and during the 2011 trial, a breach of professional ethics that had the effect of depriving the officers of their rights to a fair trial. The judge granted the officers’ request for a new trial.
A former New Orleans police detective testified Monday that he and his colleagues in the Danziger Bridge investigation orchestrated a brazen cover-up of startling scope that included fabricated witnesses, a planted gun, and falsified reports that tried to justify the police shootings.
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TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Barbara "Bobbi" Bernstein, lead prosecutor for the U.S. Justice Department enters federal court Monday, July 11, 2011 for resumption of the Danziger Bridge shooting case.
Ted Jackson, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Jeffrey Lehrmann recounted how his supervisor, Sgt. Arthur "Archie" Kaufman, one day emerged from the garage of his Slidell home with a brown paper bag.
Kaufman said it contained a "ham sandwich," Lehrmann recalled.
In fact, it contained a revolver that would be entered into evidence and used to bolster the police claim that civilians fired on officers on the Danziger Bridge, Lehrmann said. When asked if the gun was "clean," able to be traced back to anyone, Kaufman replied it was, Lehrmann recalled.
Lehrmann, a government witness who has pleaded guilty in the case, said Kaufman was concerned about holes in the cover-up. A gun would help solidify the storyline.
"We needed a gun," Lehrmann said.
Though Lehrmann's allegations are not new -- many were released early last year as part of his guilty plea -- they contain some of the most explosive details regarding the NOPD's own handling of the investigation.
“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system; unfortunately, though the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues,” Engelhardt wrote. “After much reflection, the Court cannot journey as far as it has in this case only to ironically accept grotesque prosecutorial misconduct in the end.”
Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brissette, 17, were killed in the gunfire that day, while several members of the Bartholomew family were seriously injured.
Lance Madison, who had seen his brother Ronald gunned down, was arrested and accused of shooting at police.
Relatives of the victims were incredulous at the ruling.
“What’s going to happen to the crimes they committed? Are they just going to sweep that under the carpet and forget it?” asked Sherrel Johnson, Brissette’s mother. “My son is dead. Ronald is dead. All the others are damaged. They did that to innocent people, for no reason. And now they’re going to twist it all up.”
In a statement, Dr. Romell Madison, a brother to Ronald and Lance, urged the Justice Department to appeal Engelhardt’s decision to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“It has been over eight years since our brother Ronald was shot and killed on the Danziger Bridge and our brother Lance was falsely arrested and framed on eight counts of attempted murder,” Madison said in a statement. “This decision reopens this terrible wound not only for our family but our entire community.”
prosecutors in the case had engaged in “grotesque” misconduct. In a blistering and meticulously detailed 129-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt found that federal prosecutors in New Orleans had anonymously posted damning online critiques of the accused officers and the New Orleans Police Department before and during the 2011 trial, a breach of professional ethics that had the effect of depriving the officers of their rights to a fair trial.
reply to post by Metaphysique
To some extent you're right, but federal prosecutors aren't as immune as you might think. There have always been dozens of lawyers ready to jump at a chance to be a prosecutor at the federal level. I have known of some Assistant US Attorneys who have been let go over bad mistakes.
The guy at the head of the office, the US Attorney, serves at the pleasure of the President. If he makes a mistake which is politically embarrassing, he gets bounced, too.
I don't know what will happen in this case, but I can assure you that the AUSAs aren't getting pats on the back.