Monday, 13 December 2010 08:53

Katrina Fallout: NOPD Officers Charged with Killing, Cover-Up

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Five years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, three New Orleans Police Department officers have been found guilty in the high-stakes case of the killing of an unarmed man after the storm, as well as its subsequent cover-up. Eleven federal counts were leveled against the three, but according to a New Orleans Times Picayune report, two other officers were completely acquitted of charges in the case.

Former officer David Warren, Officer Gregory McRae, and Lt. Travis McCabe, were convicted in the death of Henry Glover, 31, and the subsequent cover-up after Glover was shot in a strip mall in Algiers (across the Mississippi River from New Orleans), where he and his friend Bernard Calloway had driven to retrieve some stolen goods before leaving the city.

The New York Times reported that on Sept. 2, 2005, Warren was patrolling the mall and shot Glover in the back with his personal assault rifle after Glover and Calloway began to run upon hearing Warren scream “get out.” Glover’s brother, who was also at the site, flagged down a passing motorist, William Tanner, who put all three men in his car. Thinking a drive to the nearest hospital was too far, Tanner headed to a nearby elementary school, where NOPD’s Special Operations was set up, hoping to find help there. It was reported that 50 or 60 SWAT officers had camped out at the school.

Once there, Tanner and Calloway testified, the officers handcuffed and beat them, while refusing to help Glover. Officer McRae then drove Tanner’s car, with Glover’s body, to the Algiers levee and parked it, tossing a lit flare into the vehicle. When the car didn’t immediately ignite, McRae fired a single shot with his service handgun to improve ventilation. When the shot broke the back window, the car then burst into flames.

Warren was convicted of manslaughter and a civil rights violation against Glover; McRae of four counts related to the incineration of the car and Glover’s body; and McCabe of charges relating to a falsified report and lying to both an FBI agent and the federal grand jury.

The Glover case marks the first convictions in a federal probe into police misconduct following Hurricane Katrina. The case is one of nine started by the FBI and Justice Department — most involving post-Katrina events. Ten NOPD officers face charges in three separate cases, including the highly publicized Danziger Bridge shooting, two days after Glover’s death, in which two civilians were killed and six wounded.

Glover’s case had been uninvestigated for years in spite of repeated inquiries from the victim’s family. The Times Picayune and ProPublica, an independent non-profit newsroom, joined forces to investigate the mysterious charred car, and a subsequent article published in The Nation prompted initial federal inquiries.

The convictions, however, left Glover's family unsatisfied because some of the participating officers were acquitted. The victim’s aunt, Rebecca Glover, asserted as she left the courtroom, "All of them should have been found guilty. They all participated in this. How are you going to let them go free?"

Public opinion is not on the side of the NOPD, which has a long-standing reputation for corruption. Many believe the convictions are long overdue, according to area journalist and Katrina survivor Shannon Simpson. She reported that intense pressures after the storm have caused many to plead that those pressures were mitigating circumstances for their crimes, but that few of the city’s residents are buying it.

Indeed, Rick Simmons who represented Warren, noted in his closing argument, When you take into account reasonable versus unreasonable [,] you have to take into consideration the conditions under which he was living.

However, federal prosecutor Jared Fishman declared in his closing statement, "Hurricane Katrina didn’t turn petty theft into a capital offense."

The case — already considered one of the most important civil rights prosecutions in recent years — could signal a turnaround for justice in the south.

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