Laura Maggi and Brendan McCarthy at New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Admitting a cover-up of shocking breadth, a former New Orleans police supervisor pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction charge on Wednesday, confessing that he participated in a conspiracy to justify the shooting of six unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina that was hatched not long after police stopped firing their weapons.
The guilty plea of Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department earlier this month, contains explosive details of the alleged cover-up and ramps up the legal pressure on police officers involved in the shooting and subsequent investigation. It’s unclear when Lohman’s cooperation with federal authorities began, but he presumably is prepared to testify against the officers he says helped him lie about the circumstances of a shooting he immediately deemed a “bad shoot.”
Lohman, who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to obstruct justice, admits he failed to order the collection of evidence or canvassing of witnesses, helped craft police reports riddled with false information, participated in a plan to plant a gun under the bridge and lied to investigators who questioned police actions.
A spokesman for NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley said the chief did not have a comment about the guilty plea. Bob Young said Riley stands by the quote he made Tuesday, as news of the guilty plea broke. “We hope that justice is served,” he said then.
Remember the Danziger 7? They were the New Orleans cops accused of murdering people on the Danziger Bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. A state court dismissed charges against them in 2008 but the Feds launched their own investigation into the episode and subsequent cover-up.
The case exploded yesterday when the police Captain who investigated the incident pled guilty to obstruction of justice and admitted that it looked like a “bad shoot” from the git go. This is the *perfect* witness for the Feds: he knows all the details and wasn’t one of the shooters.
Justin Elliott at TPM:
In charge of supervising the police investigation, Lohman drafted a bogus 17-page report on the incident, and helped other officers prepare false reports that would agree on a single narrative. When another investigator planted a handgun at the scene, Lohman questioned him to make sure it was “clean.”
Lohman admitted “he knew that the civilians on the bridge had not actually possessed guns, and he knew that the investigator had also falsified statements by the civilians,” according to the government’s press release.
The seven police involved in the shooting itself claimed that they had come under fire after responding to a call that reported two officers had been shot in the area of the bridge, according to an account of the incident from ProPublica. The outlet has been investigating the incident along with the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
After the police shooting, officers arrested Lance Madison — brother of one of the slain men — and booked him on attempted murder charges, alleging he had shot at officers. A grand jury later rejected those charges, according to the Times-Picayune, which has a useful timeline of the case here.
What actually happened, according to the Feds, is this: at least seven officers arrived at the bridge in a Budget rental truck. For unclear reasons, the police opened fire when they encountered on the east side of the bridge a group of six people heading to a supermarket to get supplies. That’s when Brissette was killed; Susan Bartholomew lost part of an arm, and her husband Leonard was shot in the head.
Then the officers traveled to the west side of the bridge and encountered the Madison brothers, who were headed to visit a family member’s dentistry office. Ronald Madison, who lived with his mother and, according to his brother, had the mental capacity of a young child, was shot five times in the back, an autopsy showed.
The police involved in the incident were out of uniform and heavily armed, according to the Times-Picayune. They later claimed that one of the victims had reached for a “shiny object,” according to the New York Times.
The seven officers involved in the bridge shooting were indicted on murder charges in December 2006, but the judge threw out the case in August 2008, citing a prosecutor’s violation of grand jury secrecy. The next month, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten launched a probe of the case.
It’s not clear whether the officers involved in the shooting itself could still face federal charges.
The autopsy reports show that Ronald Madison, 40, was shot once in the shoulder and five times in the back, while 19-year-old James Brissette was killed by seven gunshots.
The survivors were seriously injured: Susan Bartholomew lost her right arm as a result of the gunfire; Lesha Bartholomew suffered four gunshot wounds; Leonard Bartholomew was shot three times; and Jose Holmes Jr. had to have a colostomy after he was shot in the stomach.
No police officers were injured.
The Police Account
At approximately 9 a.m., police responded to a report that two officers had been shot in the area of Chef Menteur Highway and Downman Road, near Danziger Bridge, according to the NOPD’s report of the incident. Once they arrived, the officers say, they came under fire and began shooting back.
They initially charged Ronald Madison’s brother, Lance Madison, with eight counts of attempted murder, but a grand jury declined to indict him.
The Civilians’ Account
All of the surviving civilians agree on one thing: They didn’t shoot at the police. They’ve filed a string of lawsuits against the police claiming their rights were violated; those suits remain on hold as federal authorities investigate.
According to a suit filed by Holmes, the officers didn’t issue any orders or warnings before firing their weapons, and their vehicle did not have any markings on it to identify them as law enforcement officers. Holmes says he was shot twice in his abdomen by an officer standing over him.
Investigators assigned to the Danziger Bridge shooting relied heavily on their colleagues’ statements for their 54-page report. Reporters at the New Orleans Times-Picayune haven’t been able to locate two civilian witnesses who were interviewed for the report, or uncover any evidence that these witnesses actually exist. And another key witness, David Ryder, was a fraud. He told police he was a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy, but, in fact, Ryder was a convicted criminal who’d never worked for the St. Landry sheriff.
Vladimir at Redstate:
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have achieved a key break in their investigation of the New Orleans Police Department and the shooting of six civilians (two fatally) during Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath. According to Letten’s bill of information, none of the victims were armed. Former NOPD Lieutenant Jim Lohman has entered a guilty plea to federal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in its investigation of the other police officers involved in the incident. State charges were filed in 2006 but dismissed in 2008.
Letten is a Republican, and a Bush appointee. His office has taken down some 200 corrupt public officials during his eight year tenure in office, making him perhaps the most trusted figure in the New Orleans area. His retention as U.S. Attorney has been supported by both Sen. David Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu.
UPDATE: Huffington Post
UPDATE #2: More Huffington Post