Civil Rights Charges in Post-Katrina Vigilante Shooting
On Thursday, federal hate crimes charges were filed against Roland Bourgeois, Jr. for his alleged role in the racially motivated shooting of Donnell Herrington and two other men in New Orleans' Algiers Point neighborhood in the days after Katrina.
In April, FRONTLINE, ProPublica and the Times-Picayune first identified Bourgeois as the shooter in the case, when we reported the story of Terri Benjamin, a witness to the incident.
Benjamin, who lived Algiers Point at the time and saw the vigilante activity firsthand, described in dramatic detail how she saw Bourgeois and several others celebrating -- "hootin' and hollerin'." They said they had shot an African American male. But one of the vigilantes reported back -- the man wasn't dead yet. Bourgeois set off with his shotgun to finish the job, Benjamin says.
In 2009, Herrington told FRONTLINE what happened to him the night of Sept. 1, 2005. He had been fleeing his damaged home, heading to a designated evacuation zone, a ferry terminal on the river. To get there he had to go through Algiers Point.
Accompanied by a cousin and friend, Herrington had barely crossed into Algiers Point when he suddenly felt the pain of a spray of hot lead in his back and neck. He had been shot from behind with a shotgun.
Herrington's story was first reported by ProPublica and The Nation in December 2008, and the story sparked the federal investigation.
UPDATE (Aug. 13, 2010) -- On Aug. 12, Bourgeois pleaded not guilty on all counts. A trial date was set for early October; until then the judge ordered that Bourgeois, who is gravely ill, be confined at home.