Mistrial Declared in Danziger Bridge Case

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On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt “regretfully” declared a mistrial in the case against former New Orleans Police Department Detective Gerard Dugue, who was accused of participating in the cover-up of the shootings of six unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Two of the civilians were killed and four were seriously wounded in the shootings; to date five NOPD officers have pleaded guilty and five were convicted at trial last summer for their roles in the shootings and the ensuing cover-up.  Dugue was not present at the shootings; he wrote the final report justifying officers’ actions in the case.

The mistrial was declared after prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein mentioned the name of Raymond Robair, a handyman who was beaten to death by police in July 2005. (Read our reporting on the Robair case; last year, two NOPD officers were convicted in his death.) Dugue headed the internal NOPD investigation into Robair’s death, which justified the officers’ actions, but he was not charged with any wrongdoing in that case.

Claude Kelly, Dugue’s attorney, immediately objected when Robair’s name was mentioned, arguing it was prejudicial. The judge agreed, saying it was impossible to know whether jurors had overheard the remarks, adding, “That’s a chance that I’m not willing to take.”

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten says he intends to re-try the case against Dugue.

Earlier on Friday, Dugue took the stand in his own defense, denying he had attended what prosecutors referred to as a “secret meeting” during which the officers involved developed the cover-up. Last week, two former NOPD officers who pleaded guilty in the shootings placed Dugue at the meeting.

“Anybody who said I was there for a secret meeting is an absolute liar,” Dugue told the jury.

Defense attorneys also called former officer Michael Hunter to the stand. Hunter, who pleaded guilty in the Danziger case, said he did not recall Dugue being at the meeting, but he also said he couldn’t be sure that Dugue wasn’t there.

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