Former NOPD Officers Testify About “Secret Meeting” to Determine Danziger Bridge Cover-Up
Yesterday, the prosecution rested in the trial of Gerard Dugue, a former NOPD detective accused of helping to cover up the police shootings on the Danziger Bridge. Six unarmed civilians were shot by police on the bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina; four were severely wounded and two were killed.
Dugue was not at the bridge on the day of the incident. He took over the NOPD’s internal investigation six weeks later, and wrote the final report that justified the officers actions in the shootings.
Three former officers who have pleaded guilty for their roles in the conspiracy were among the prosecution’s witnesses. All three, who are currently serving prison terms, wore orange prison jumpsuits during their testimony.
Two of the officers testified that Dugue was at what prosecutors describe as a January 2006 “secret meeting” during which the officers developed the cover-up.
“We were all together in a circle. It was stated to us, get your story straight because it was going to be recorded,” testified former officer Ignatius Hills, who is serving a six-and-a-half-year prison term. But when questioned by Claude Kelly, Dugue’s attorney, Hills admitted that over the years he has told different stories about who was at the meeting.
Jeffrey Lehrmann, who was the first officer to cooperate with prosecutors in the case, also placed Dugue at the meeting, testifying that Dugue said, “This never happened” as the meeting ended. But under cross-examination, Kelly noted that in 2009 Lehrmann said he wasn’t sure who made that comment. Lehrmann is currently serving a three-year prison term.
After jurors left for the day yesterday, Kelly asked U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt to dismiss charges against Dugue, arguing that prosecutors had failed to prove their case. “I do have some concerns about some counts in this case,” noted Engelhardt, but he said he would let jurors hear the case, and decide later whether any convictions should be overturned. Last summer, Engelhardt threw out three counts against the five officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge case after the verdict.
Engelhardt also raised questions about Lehrmann, noting he had also offered contradictory testimony at last summer’s trial. “I have to tell you I have some real concerns about Mr. Lehrmann’s testimony, as I did last summer. He has gotten no better at giving questionable testimony in a federal case,” the judge said, warning prosecutors to be careful with Lehrmann’s testimony in their closing arguments.