The second guilty plea in the Danziger Bridge case today revealed additional details about the conduct of New Orleans police after Hurricane Katrina and suggested more prosecutions of higher-ranking officers are yet to come.
Former police detective Jeffrey Lehrmann pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony in connection to a Sept. 4, 2005 incident in which officers shot six civilians on or near the bridge. Two people were killed.
According to a document filed by federal prosecutors, Lehrmann helped cover up police misconduct by concocting evidence portraying the citizens who were shot as gun-wielding criminals.
Lehrmann also participated in a scheme to plant a gun at the scene, the document says, and even helped create a fictional witness whose “statements” were included in a 54-page police report on the shootings. (The New Orleans Times-Picayune first raised questions about the existence of bogus witnesses to the bridge incident in 2007.)
Prosecutors’ case against Lehrmann also points to a bigger fish: His supervisor—unnamed in the court documents—who allegedly provided the planted gun and committed other crimes during the investigation.
Lehrmann’s supervisor at the time was Sgt. Arthur Kaufman. A call to Kaufman’s attorney, Stephen London, was not immediately returned, but London has acknowledged to the Times-Picayune that Kaufman is a target of the federal probe.
The Danziger investigation just is one of many examples of questionable post-Katrina police work. Late last year ProPublica, the Times-Picayune and PBS “Frontline” began scrutinizing other violent episodes that occurred the week after the hurricane made landfall, including the fatal shootings of Danny Brumfield and Matthew McDonald, and the non-fatal shooting of Keenon McCann. All of the men were shot by NOPD officers.
Our investigation identified a disturbing pattern: In case after case, NOPD officers conducted superficial investigations before concluding their fellow cops had acted appropriately. The U.S. Department of Justice is now looking into these shootings as well.
Update: Stephen London, Arthur Kaufman’s attorney, called us back today to say, “I’m not particularly concerned with what Mr. Lehrmann says because it’s not true.” Kaufman is still on the payroll at the NOPD and has not been suspended or placed on administrative leave, London added.