Charges Filed in Katrina Inquiry
New York Times
February 24, 2010
NEW ORLEANS - On Sept. 4, 2005, with floodwaters of
Hurricane Katrina still standing in much of the city,
Lt. Michael J. Lohman of the
Department arrived at the
there just ahead of him in response to a radio call for assistance.
At the bridge, Lieutenant Lohman found that six
civilians had been shot by police officers, two
fatally. None of them had weapons.
Almost immediately, federal authorities said Wednesday
in a blistering series of accusations, he and the other
officers began to plot a cover-up, planting a gun near
the site to make the shootings appear justified.
That action led to Lieutenant Lohman's appearance in a
federal courtroom on Wednesday afternoon, where he
pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to obstruct
justice. It is the first charge in a wide-ranging
inquiry into police misconduct that led to civilian
deaths in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, and
it is unlikely to be the last.
"Know this," Jim Letten, the
the Eastern District of
after the hearing. "The investigation continues. It is ongoing."
It is also not the only federal investigation into
civilian deaths caused by the police force in the days
after the hurricane. The fact that the accusations go
beyond the shooting to a larger cover-up "is really
indicative of a systemic integrity issue," said Rafael
C. Goyeneche III, a former
is the president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission,
a watchdog group. "It's going to rock the Police
Department to the core."
A spokeswoman for the Police Department declined to comment.
The bill of information, which contains charges but is
not an indictment, and was unsealed Wednesday, is the
clearest picture yet of the federal investigation into
The documents filed by the authorities said that five
of the civilians had been walking to get food and
supplies, and that the other two were on their way to a
family member's dentistry office when they were fired
upon by police officers. Four were seriously injured.
James Brissette, 19, and Ronald Madison, who was 40 and
mentally disabled, were killed. Mr. Madison's brother
Lance, who was in the courtroom on Wednesday, was
arrested and charged with eight counts of attempted
murder in trumped-up charges related to the cover-up,
but was later cleared.
Lieutenant Lohman, 42 and now retired, concluded
shortly after arriving on the scene that the shooting
was "legally unjustified," federal authorities said. He
encouraged the officers to "come up with a plausible
story" that would allow him to conclude that the
shooting was justified, the authorities said.
When another police investigator told Lieutenant Lohman
that he was going to plant a gun under the bridge to
bolster the story that the officers were being fired
at, Lieutenant Lohman went along, and even asked if the
gun was traceable, the authorities said.
At the encouragement of Lieutenant Lohman, the officers
who were involved made up details, the authorities
said, like a claim that one victim had reached for a
"shiny object" in his waistband.
At one point, according to the documents, Mr. Lohman
was frustrated that the cover-up story in the report,
which was drafted by a police sergeant, "was not
logical," so he drew up one of his own, which broadly
changed details to fit the false story. The sergeant
later replaced that report with a shorter one that was
changed to fit the audiotaped statements of the police
who were involved.
That sergeant is unnamed by the authorities, but the
police report is signed by Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was
assigned to investigate the Danziger shooting. He
prepared a supplemental report later with another
police sergeant, which was widely criticized.
Sergeant Kaufman and at least one other officer, who
was directly involved in the shooting, have received
letters informing them that they are targets in the
investigation, their lawyers acknowledged.
Lieutenant Lohman faces up to five years in prison, but
Mr. Letten said the officer had been cooperating with
the authorities, an indication that charges against
others might be coming.
In 2006, the seven officers who were directly involved
in the shooting were charged with murder and attempted
murder, but the charges were dismissed in late 2008 by
a judge who cited improprieties in the handling of the
case. The United States Attorney's Office, along with
the F.B.I. and the civil rights division of the Justice
Department, picked the case up soon afterward.
During the federal investigation throughout 2009,
dozens of police officers testified before grand
juries, federal agents seized files from the police
homicide division, and the
down for hours as agents looked for evidence.
Several other cases are under investigation by the
federal authorities, including the shooting death of
31-year-old Henry Glover, whose remains were eventually
discovered in a burned car parked behind a police
station in the
case was brought to the attention of the authorities by
an article that appeared in The Nation magazine in
December 2008 and on the Web site ProPublica.org.