One NOPD Officer Guilty, One Acquitted in Post-Katrina Shooting

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Today a jury convicted Officer Ronald Mitchell of perjury and obstruction of justice in the shooting of Danny Brumfield outside the convention center where many evacuees gathered in the days after Hurricane Katrina. A second officer, Ray Jones, was acquitted of similar charges.

Mitchell fired the shot that killed Brumfield, but he was not charged with the shooting. The charges were related to his description of the events leading up to and after the shooting in a deposition in a civil lawsuit filed by Brumfield’s family. Mitchell said that Brumfield leaped onto his police car, brandishing a shiny weapon.  But several civilian witnesses, as well as two police officers who were nearby, disputed Mitchell’s account of what happened, although, as defense attorneys noted, the witnesses offered differing accounts of what happened.

In the civil suit, Mitchell and Jones both stated that after the shooting, they stopped the police car to check on Brumfield’s condition, but none of the witnesses saw the police car stop. In his closing arguments, Jones’ attorney Eric Hessler maintained that his client’s description of what happened was vague and that it was up to the Brumfield family’s attorneys to press for specifics.

Brumfield’s story is one of six cases of questionable post-Katrina police shootings we’ve been investigating with our partners at ProPublica and the Times-Picayune. Ten officers were convicted or pleaded guilty in the shootings of six civilians on the Danziger Bridge, while two additional officers were convicted in the shooting death of Henry Glover, and the burning of his body afterward.  The conviction of a third officer in the Glover case was overturned; he awaits a new trial.

In March, the Justice Department released a scathing report that found “systemic violations of civil rights” by the NOPD. It recently announced that two FBI agents will be stationed full time in the department to investigation allegations of significant corruption or civil rights violations.  And the Justice Department and the NOPD are currently hammering out the details of a consent decree with the aim to foster “fundamental culture change” in the department. Upon its implementation, the consent decree is expected to govern the department for years.

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