National News

Deadly Katrina police coverups unraveling?

By Jesse Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Mar 15, 2010 - 11:25:47 AM

What's your opinion on this article?

( - Within weeks of the Crescent City celebrating a victory in the Super Bowl, one of its former law enforcement officials pleaded guilty to covering up a deadly shooting during the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has initiated further probes into several shootings amid charges of plots and cover-ups inside the New Orleans Police Department.

On March 4, the FBI announced that it has opened up several cases since Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department in early February, confessed in federal court that he participated in a conspiracy to justify shootings of six unarmed flood survivors after Katrina on the Danziger Bridge.

“Their (officers) jobs are to help individuals and protect us, not to hurt us. Sadly, sadly, we come across in the course of our work here ... officers who violate their oaths of office, who occasionally violate their duties, violate their commitment to serve the public. And we take actions against those individuals wherever they violate federal law. We will continue to do that,” said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, during a news conference on Feb. 24 following Mr. Lohman's plea.

Mr. Lohman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice with fellow officers, says he falsified police documents to impede the investigation, failed to order the collection of evidence, engaged in misleading conduct to skew truthful reporting, plotted to plant false evidence, and lied to investigators who were probing the activity of the New Orleans Police Dept.

“Four and half years later is too late. I was saying this was true back then but nobody wanted to listen. Justice delayed is justice denied,” Malik Rahim told The Final Call.

Mr. Rahim heads the grassroots group Common Ground, which to date has serviced half a million Katrina survivors via its health clinic. “It's sad that it took these White folks to keep a case like this alive. Every African American leader should be ashamed of themselves because there was no outcry when we said this four years ago. It's a shame.”

“We hope justice is served,” commented Warren Riley, New Orleans Police Dept. superintendent.

The alleged cover-up surrounding the September 4, 2005 shooting also includes six other officers who have maintained their innocence.

All of the men were originally indicted in December 2006 by a Louisiana grand jury on charges of murder and attempted murder.

In August 2008, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow dropped the case against the seventh officer because of what he called “a tainted case” by the prosecutor. The case was taken over by the U.S. Department of Justice and Mr. Letten in September 2008.

“This is a vital story. I hope this media focus combined with investigations from the Department of Justice will create the public pressure for the real, systemic, changes the NOPD needs. It is hard to rebuild and recover if you don't have a foundation of justice to build on,” New Orleans resident and activist Jordan Flaherty told The Final Call.

Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned by Mr. Lohman to investigate the Denziger incident, met with FBI officials in January 2009 and in August of that year the bureau seized files from NOPD homicide division. On Sept. 26, the Danziger Bridge was closed off for a day to retrace the scene of the shooting and on Feb. 1 Mr. Lohman ended his 21-year career on the police force days before prosecutors charged him with conspiracy.

The FBI is presently looking into a total of seven more cases including the death of Danny Brumfield, who was shot Sept. 3, 2005 in front of the convention center. Mr. Brumsfield was reportedly threatening the lives of the officers with a pair of scissors before an officer fired bullets into his back.

“There are some thugs, gangsters, rapists and hit men on the New Orleans Police force. The criminal behavior of this element within the police force is supported by some judges on the bench. These recent FBI investigations only brings to light what members of the community, activists and others have been saying for years,” said Willie Muhammad of the Nation of Islam to The Final Call.

Another case being probed by the FBI is the death of Raymond Robair. Mr. Robair died July 30, 2005 after being dropped off at a hospital by officers who said they allegedly found him lying injured in the middle of a street. The victim's sister filed a suit claiming the two involved officers attempted a cover up.

“The only way to demand and receive change is to reopen past cases of police abuse and murder beginning with the young brother on New Year's morning, Anthony Hayes on St. Charles Ave., Raymond Robair on Villere St., Joe Williams of the Hot 8 Brass Band, and Jenard Thomas who was murdered in front of his father,” said Parnell Herbert to The Final Call.

According to the bill of information, a deadly incident on Sept. 4, 2005, resulted in Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, being fatally shot to death outside on the Gentilly side of the Danziger bridge. Nineteen-year-old James Brissette was killed on the eastern side of the bridge and the four people accompanying him were seriously wounded. Leonard Bartholomew III was shot in the head while his wife, Susan Bartholomew, lost part of her arm in the spray of bullets. Their daughter, Leisha Bartholomew and nephew, Jose Holmes, suffered wounds while their son Leonard Bartholomew IV was unharmed.

That same day, following the bridge shooting, officers apprehended FedEx employee Lance Madison on charges of attempted murder. According to the bill of information, supplied by prosecutors, the arrest was just part of the cover up led by Mr. Lohman who served as a 7th District ranking officer before retiring. Mr. Madison was eventually freed and Mr. Lohman says it was a “bad shoot” of unarmed civilians.

Recently members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) held a press conference to denounce the actions of the NOPD and call on all police officers to come forth with any information have related to the Danziger bridge shooting.

“We are counting on every police officer with a conscience to come forward with any information they may have on what took place here,” said the Rev. Norwood Thompson Jr., president of the New Orleans SCLC March 4 at the mouth of the bridge.

Mr. Herbert questioned the validity of the SCLC's press conference. “What do you accomplish by denouncing a case where you have a confession? Where were they in 2005 when it occurred? Where were they when New Orleans' first Black District Attorney Eddie Jordan was being publicly lynched for bringing indictments against these same cops on this same case?” he asked.

“The ultimate question is where were all of the Black leaders when we were saying this from the start? Why didn't they believe us? Since then, I have been walking my neighborhood bearing the smiles of White vigilantes who are treated like heroes for shooting our people during Katrina,” said Mr. Rahim.

Mr. Herbert added, “We must also hold accountable coroner Frank Minyard and his investigations and decisions in many of these cases. Accountability is the key. When police are shown that they can no longer get away with murder, they will discontinue the practice. The people of New Orleans are in a position to cause positive change throughout the United States of America.”

“We are talking about police officers killing innocent, unarmed civilians, then covering it up by fabricating stories, planting evidence and filing false charges against the deceased, their families, and witnesses. This story also goes beyond the police department. Many of these cases also seem to have involved the cooperation of New Orleans' elected coroner, who has repeatedly ignored or covered up physical evidence of murders committed by officers,” said Mr. Flaherty, who also manages Left Turn magazine.

“The former district attorney, Eddie Jordan, came under attack after he made a bold step and charged the police with first degree murder for the Danziger Bridge shooting. His boldness cost him his job,” said Willie Muhammad.

Related news:

A victory for Katrina flood survivors? (FCN, 11-25-2009)