Trial Begins for Last Defendant in Infamous Post-Katrina Police Shooting

January 24, 2012

The trial began yesterday for the last remaining officer facing charges in the Danziger Bridge shootings. In the days immediately following Hurricane Katrina New Orleans police officers shot six unarmed civilians, killing two.

Former homicide detective Gerard Dugue faces multiple charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to federal agents.

Unlike the five officers who were convicted in the case last summer, Dugue was not on the bridge the day of the shootings. He took over the NOPD’s internal investigation of the incident about two months after the storm, and wrote a report that cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

“There was no justification for that shooting, but for almost six years the officers got away with it,” prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein said in her opening statement yesterday. “And that’s why we are here. Because the officers almost got away with it because of this man, Gerard Dugue.”

Claude Kelly, Dugue’s defense attorney, told the jury that the conspiracy was limited to the 10 officers who have already pleaded or been found guilty, referring to the officers, who worked out of New Orleans’ 7th District as the “7th District clique.”  Kelly also told jurors that Dugue’s investigation — which included ordering tests of the bullet casings found on the bridge that established a link to the officers’ weapons — was integral to the federal prosecutors’ case.

The Danziger Bridge case is one of six cases of questionable post-Katrina police shootings that we’ve been following for the past two years with our partners at ProPublica and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. To date, 13 officers have been convicted or have pleaded guilty in three cases.

Dugue’s trial has a “much more low-key feel to it” compared to last summer’s high-profile trial of the five other Danziger defendants, reports the Times-Picayune‘s Laura Maggi, who was at yesterday’s proceedings. Dugue’s trial is expected to last two to three weeks.

Dugue was also involved in another case we’ve been following — the death of Henry Glover, who was shot by an officer and whose body was burned by a different group of officers. Dugue started an internal investigation into Glover’s death, but his report was left unfinished after the FBI seized his computer.

Dugue was not charged with any wrongdoing in the Glover case. Two officers were convicted in Glover’s death; the conviction of a third officer, Travis McCabe, was overturned and he is awaiting a new trial.

In March 2011, the Justice Department released a scathing report that found “systemic violations of civil rights” by the NOPD, and the department is currently negotiating a federal consent decree with the Justice Department that would place the department under court supervision.  Two FBI agents have been stationed full time in the NOPD’s Public Integrity Bureau to investigate allegations of significant corruption or civil rights violations in the department.

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