In 2005, the city of New Orleans suffered massive devastation as a result of Hurricane Katrina. One of the ugliest events during that time was the severe misconduct of police officers, resulting in the deaths of three men. More than a decade later, the city has finally agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement for the 17 plaintiffs involved in the civil rights cases, as it continues to work towards rebuilding trust between the police and the community.
The U.S. Justice Department spearheaded a civil rights investigation into the multiple incidents of alleged police misconduct and eventually charged 20 officers, as it was determined that the New Orleans Police Department exhibited, “a clear pattern of unconstitutional uses of force.” Three federal lawsuits were filed against the city for civil rights violations, personal injury and wrongful death. After 11 years, the victims and families of victims will receive compensation from the recently agreed-upon $13.3 million settlement.
The first incident occurred a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina when a 48-year-old-man was beaten with a baton and kicked by a police officer who later told doctors the man had a drug overdose. The officer was sentenced to more than 21 years in prison. An officer in training who was also present at the time was convicted for his role in the incident, which included writing up a false incident report and lying to the FBI. He is serving more than five years behind bars.
A few days after Katrina swept across New Orleans, a 31-year-old man was shot and killed by a rookie police officer guarding the outside of a shopping mall. Members of his family were allegedly assaulted by police before the man’s body was placed in a car and set on fire. Five officers stood trial and three were convicted. However, only the officer who set the fire had his conviction stand. The officer who fired the shots was retried after an appeal and was found not guilty. One of the officers involved in the cover-up of the crime also had his conviction overturned and did not face trial again.
As New Orleans dealt with the severe flooding in the aftermath of Katrina, a group of officers opened fire on residents walking across the Danziger Bridge. A 17-year-old boy was killed, along with a 40-year-old developmentally disabled man whose brother was charged with attempting to kill eight police officers and spent three weeks in jail without ever being indicted. Four others were seriously injured. Police and investigators tried to put the blame on the civilians, indicating they were the ones who opened fire. Made-up witness statements and falsified records were created by the police and investigators. Five officers were convicted for the shootings and cover-up but the verdict was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. They later pled guilty with significantly reduced sentences.
The delay in reaching a settlement in the civil lawsuits was due to the length of the criminal trials and appeals. New Orleans has invested $50 million towards a major transformation of the police department including body cameras for officers. The city is even working with the federal government to implement the reforms. Actions like these give hope that police brutality across the country will be eradicated. If you or someone you love has been a victim of a civil rights violation including police brutality, please call Finz & Finz, P.C., today.