A federal jury on Thursday convicted three current or former New Orleans police officers but acquitted two others in the death of a man during Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath.
The jury of seven women and five men on convicted former officer David Warren of manslaughter in the shooting death of 31-year-old Henry Glover outside a strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005.
The jury also convicted Officer Gregory McRae of burning Glover’s body in a car. Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann was acquitted of that charge.
Lt. Travis McCabe was convicted of writing a false report on the shooting. Former Lt. Robert Italiano was cleared of that charge.
A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers have been charged this year in a series of Justice Department civil rights investigations. The probe of Glover’s death was the first of those cases to be tried.
All five of the officers charged in the Glover case testified during the trial, describing the grueling, dangerous conditions they endured after the Aug. 29, 2005 storm, when thousands of desperate people were trapped in the flooded city.
Looting was rampant and bodies rotted on the streets for days because there was nowhere to take them, officers recalled. With lives on the line, the officers said they had no time to write reports or investigate anything but the most serious of crimes.
Prosecutors said Katrina can’t excuse the officers’ actions but may explain them. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Knight said in her opening statement that the storm lulled the officers into thinking “no one was watching and no one would care about Henry Glover.”
“But they were wrong,” she added.
The jury had to weigh the defendants’ testimony against the words of several officers who admitted they initially lied to the FBI or a grand jury — or both — before cooperating with the government.
Warren, 47, said he was guarding a police substation at the mall and armed with a personally owned assault rifle when Glover and a friend, Bernard Calloway, pulled up in what appeared to a stolen truck. Warren claimed Glover and Calloway ran toward a gate that would have given them access to the building and ignored his commands to stop. He said he thought he saw a gun in Glover’s hand before he fired one shot at him from a second-floor balcony.
But Warren’s partner that day, Officer Linda Howard, testified Glover and Calloway weren’t armed and didn’t pose a threat. Calloway said he saw Glover leaning against the truck and lighting a cigarette, with his back facing the strip mall, just before he was shot.
It wasn’t the only time Warren discharged his weapon that day. Earlier in the morning, Warren had fired a warning shot at a man on a bicycle. Warren said he felt threatened by the man because he kept circling and looking up at him.
After Warren shot Glover, a passing motorist, William Tanner, stopped and drove the wounded man, Calloway and Glover’s brother, Edward King, to a school that members of the police department’s SWAT team using in the storm’s aftermath.
Tanner and Calloway testified they were ordered out of the car at gunpoint, handcuffed and beaten by officers who ignored their pleas to help Glover. Sgt. Jeff Sandoz, a government witness with an immunity deal, said he saw Scheuermann and McRae beat two of the men.
Sandoz said he initially lied to the FBI and grand jury about the case because he didn’t want to be labeled a “rat.” Sgt. Ronald Ruiz, another officer at the school that morning, also testified that he initially lied to the FBI about what he saw there.
McRae, 49, and Scheuermann, 48, denied beating any of the men. McRae, however, admitted he drove Tanner’s Chevrolet Malibu from the school to a nearby Mississippi River levee and set it on fire with Glover’s body still in the back seat.
McRae said it was his idea to burn the car and didn’t tell anybody of his plan. Asked why he did it, McRae said he was weary of seeing dead bodies after the storm and didn’t want to let another corpse rot. Scheuermann said he was stunned when he saw McRae toss a flare into the front seat of the car and then shoot out the rear window to stoke the fire.
Lt. Joseph Meisch, who was standing near the levee and saw the car start to burn, said McRae was laughing after he set the fire.
Prosecutors also accused Italiano and McCabe of trying to cover up the shooting. Both were charged with lying to the FBI and with writing and submitting a false and misleading report on the shooting. McCabe also was charged with lying to the grand jury.
Sgt. Purnella Simmons, who went to the mall after the shooting, said she told Italiano that Howard didn’t agree with the shooting and included that statement in a report she wrote in December 2005.
Simmons said she was angry and humiliated to learn in 2009 that a “fabricated” version of her report had been filed. That version described the chaotic state of the city after Katrina and said Italiano and his commanding officer had concluded the shooting was justified.
Simmons said she initially lied to the grand jury and took responsibility for writing the entire report, but returned to the grand jury several days later to tell the truth.
McCabe said he helped Simmons interview witnesses and write the report, but denied doctoring it. He blamed her for any omissions. Simmons said she never consulted McCabe about the report.
Italiano, who signed the report, said he didn’t do anything to falsify it or cover up the shooting. He accused Simmons of withholding information from him and maintained he would have responded differently if he had been able to connect the mall shooting with the discovery of Glover’s burned body. Italiano said he learned of that link several years later, from news reports, after he retired.
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