Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ex-Officer Pleads Guilty in Katrina Killing Probe

Times Picayune photo

Lance Madison is arrested by State Police and NOPD SWAT members on Sept. 4, 2005, after a confrontation with police near the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans. Ronald Madison, Lance Madison's brother, was shot to death that day.

Ex-Officer Pleads Guilty in Katrina Killing Probe
Mary Foster and Mike Jenzelman
Feb. 25, 2010
In Hurricane Katrina's chaotic aftermath, police shot six people -- killing two -- as they crossed a bridge in search of food. For years the case was a shocking symbol of the confusion and violence that swept through the flooded city. On Wednesday it became a mark of shame for the police department.

As victims' relatives watched from the courtroom gallery, a retired lieutenant who supervised the department's probe of the shootings pleaded guilty to orchestrating a cover-up to conceal that police gunned down unarmed civilians.

Michael Lohman, a 21-year veteran of the force, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors said Lohman and other unidentified officers conspired to fabricate witness statements, falsify reports of the incident and plant a gun in an attempt to make it appear the killings were justified.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the investigation is continuing and would not say whether higher-ranking officials of the police department might be involved.

Lohman's plea brought at least some closure to families of victims in the best-known of several violent incidents that raised questions about police conduct immediately after Katrina. The shootings happened on Sept. 4, 2005, six days after the storm smashed levees and flooded 80 percent of the city.

Survivors have said the officers fired at unarmed people who were crossing to get food at a grocery store. The officers claimed they opened fire only after being shot at. Ronald Madison, 40 and mentally disabled, and James Brissette, 19, were killed and four others were wounded.

"We are very, very happy about the progress that the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have made," said Romell Madison, Ronald's brother. "The people of New Orleans should be relieved that there is still justice for everybody here."

Lohman's plea marked the first conviction in the case. Seven officers were charged with murder or attempted murder but a state judge threw out all the charges. Federal authorities then stepped in to investigate...

"It looks like the blue code has been broken," former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg said. "Remember, those officers stood shoulder to shoulder when it was in state court. Nobody said anything."

The "blue code" is likely to face further tests with Lohman's cooperation as federal prosecutors probe the fatal shooting by police of Danny Brumfield Sr. outside the New Orleans convention center; the death of Henry Glover, whom witnesses claim died in police custody; and the fatal police shooting of a Connecticut man, Matthew McDonald...

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