Timeline: NOPD's Long History of Scandal
A rundown of major incidents of police corruption and brutality over the past 30 years...
Patrolman Gregory Neupert is found shot to death near his patrol car in Algiers. Blaming his death on local drug dealers, officers respond with what historian Leonard Moore calls "domestic terrorism," killing four civilians and injuring roughly 50 in their hunt for the killer. An Algiers' housing project resident, who witnessed the police roundup, tells the Associated Press: "They didn't give any warning ... just started grabbing boys."
Civil rights lawyer Mary Howell represents Algiers clients filing civil lawsuits against the police. Years later, she tells FRONTLINE she discovered that basic police procedures -- report writing and trip sheets -- had been abandoned during the days after Neupert's death. "We had trouble identifying [where] all officers were," she explains, "… but it also meant officers couldn't account for what they were doing."
In 1983, following a federal probe, seven officers -- the "Algiers 7" -- are indicted and three are convicted of violating the civil rights of four civilians during interrogations. Charges are never filed relating to the four civilian deaths.
In April 1986, the City of New Orleans pays roughly $2.8 million to settle lawsuits filed by citizens alleging mistreatment.
Adolph Archie, a petty criminal, escapes from a work release program, and trying to steal a car, he assaults a security guard, takes her gun and runs. Officer Earl Hauck chases him, and in a standoff, Archie shoots Hauck four times, killing him. Pursued by other officers, Archie is shot in the arm and apprehended. While he's being driven to the hospital, mobs of officers line the streets threatening to kill Archie and radio scanners record officers encouraging violence.
Instead of going to the hospital, the police bring Archie to the First District police station -- Hauck's home station. It's unclear what happens there; some officers describe a scuffle. Archie eventually is transported to the hospital, where x-rays are taken (and subsequently lost), and he is injected with iodine to which he's allergic. Archie dies 13 hours later.
Initially, coroner Frank Minyard rules his death to be consistent with a bad fall. Another autopsy, initiated by Mary Howell, representing Archie's family, indicates Archie was beaten to death. Minyard then changes the cause of death to "homicide by police intervention."
The Orleans Parish investigates the incident for six months before clearing the officers involved. The NOPD pays Archie's family $333,000 in damages -- one-third of which is designated for Officer Hauck's family -- following a wrongful death lawsuit.
Civil rights attorney Howell describes Archie's death as "the beginning of the end for this police department, the fact that this could happen in broad daylight, openly." Warren Riley, former NOPD chief, who was then a young officer, remembers the incident differently: "What I can say is that Adolph Archie did in fact steal [an] officer's weapon, and he did kill a police officer. … There's some skepticism on whether Adolph Archie died in the hospital as it relates to something medically, something a doctor did, or something a police officer did. There's two sides to that story."
NOPD's problems draw national attention. The New York Times Magazine publishes an article in March 1996 describing the NOPD as "The Thinnest Blue Line." It notes New Orleans was the nation's homicide capital in 1992 and 1994; that the NOPD solved just 37 percent of murders -- roughly half the national average; and that federal officials estimate 10 to 15 percent of the force is corrupt.
The Times points to one root of the corruption: The culture of moonlighting and private security details -- often at bars or strip clubs -- due to the NOPD's low salaries. In 1993, new officers made less than $20,000 per year.
According to historian Leonard Moore, the culture becomes one of "pseudo-organized crime. … The allegiance becomes to this seedy, after-hours establishment that you are guarding … as opposed to your particular shift at the precinct."
In 1993, the NOPD's vice squad is essentially disbanded after allegations of theft and shakedowns in New Orleans nightclubs and massage parlors -- nine of its 12 members are assigned to desk jobs with other police units. That year, two officers are charged with raping a woman they arrested. As the year ends, 17 officers have been arrested or convicted of various crimes.
Departing from New Orleans tradition, new mayor Marc Morial brings in Richard Pennington, assistant chief of Washington D.C.'s police force, to lead the NOPD. Pennington's new policies shake up the force: Officers no longer can work details at bars and strip clubs; rules governing gift-giving to superiors are tightened; and applicants with criminal records or bad credit can no longer be hired. At least 100 police officers are fired during Chief Pennington's eight-year stint.
New Orleans resident Kim Marie Groves witnesses Officer Davis beating up a neighborhood teenager and files a formal complaint with the police. Within hours, a colleague tells Davis about Groves' allegations. The next night Groves is shot dead in front of her house. Davis had planned her hit -- it was inadvertently recorded by federal officials who are investigating a cocaine ring involving Davis.
Paradoxically, Davis had a reputation for being both roguish and a good cop: Between 1987 and 1992, he received 20 complaints and was suspended six times. He was also awarded the NOPD's second highest honor, the Medal of Merit, in 1993. "He was Robocop to some people," historian Leonard Moore tells FRONTLINE. "But then he was, I would say, Officer Friendly to other people."
Tried and sentenced to death for Groves' murder, Davis remains on death row. He is one of nine officers later indicted on federal weapons and drug charges for their participation in the cocaine ring; a half dozen, including Davis, are convicted.
Mayor Morial and Chief Pennington ask the FBI to work with the NOPD on its corruption problems. It's the only such arrangement in the country. One major focus of the agreement, which also includes the Department of Justice, the U.S. Marines and the Louisiana State Police, is to educate department heads on leadership and management. In addition, all NOPD officers receive training on values, ethics and sensitivity.
On this night, Officer Antoinette Frank eats at a Vietnamese restaurant where she had once done private security detail work. Hours later, she returns with civilian Rogers LaCaze to rob the establishment. Frank and LaCaze shoot and kill Frank's former partner, Officer Ronald Williams, who is working security at the restaurant, and several members of the Vu family, the restaurant's owners.
Teenager Chau Vu survives by hiding in a cooler during the robbery. When the call goes out that there's a shooting, Frank returns to the restaurant supposedly to help in the investigation. Chau Vu identifies her as the shooter, and Frank is arrested, tried and convicted of first-degree murder. Sentenced to death in September 1995, she remains on death row. LaCaze is also convicted of murder and sentenced to death row.
Disturbing details later emerge about Frank: She had failed two psychological exams before being admitted to the police academy; a supervisor recommended she return to the academy for more training, and she had stolen the gun used in the murders from the NOPD evidence room.
Chief Pennington runs for mayor of New Orleans but loses to Cox Communications executive Ray Nagin, who received the support of the police union.
Nagin names NOPD veteran Eddie Compass chief of police. NOPD critics condemn this appointment, asserting that tapping an insider will virtually erase the progress made during Pennington's eight years of leadership.
A month before Katrina hits, Raymond Robair, a Treme resident with a record of drug dealing and possession, is brought to a hospital by New Orleans police. He's suffering from severe injuries, including several broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. The officers tell hospital staff they saw him "stumbling and holding his upper chest area" before collapsing on the street. Robair dies at the hospital. Coroner Frank Minyard rules the death "accidental" based primarily on the police report, which is filed as a response to a "medical incident."
Treme residents who witness the event, however, give a very different account: They say Robair was beaten by police. According to a July 2010 Times-Picayune article: "Numerous people say they were outside that morning and saw police punch, kick and stomp on Robair. They say police chased him, beat him and then ushered him away in the back of a police car." After Katrina strikes New Orleans, Robair's case is momentarily forgotten.
Two years after the hurricane, Mary Howell, the Robair family's attorney, has an independent autopsy performed by Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia's chief medical examiner, who rules Robair's death a homicide. The case is brought before the district attorney in 2007 and subsequently dismissed.
The FBI continues investigating the incident, however, and in July 2010, Officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore are indicted on federal charges related to Robair's death. Williams pleads innocent to charges of beating Robair and obstructing justice under the federal deprivation of civil rights statute; Moore pleads innocent to obstruction and lying to the FBI.
Law enforcement confronts enormous logistical challenges -- power outages, flooded police headquarters, a broken police radio system. Emergency 911 dispatchers receive more than 600 calls within 20 minutes of the first levee breach. Focused on search and rescue operations, police set up a temporary headquarters at Harrah's Casino, and boats are launched to rescue both civilians and officers, many of whom are trapped in their homes or temporary command posts.
After stopping to pat down four men outside a looted Algiers gas station, Officer Kevin Thomas is shot in the head by one of the men, Jamil Joyner. It is the most high-profile act of violence against a police officer during the days following Katrina and contributes to rumors of rampant civilian aggression toward law enforcement. Joyner is convicted of attempted first-degree murder in January 2010; Thomas has four plates and 16 screws in his head and continues to suffer from seizures and vision problems.
When told about Officer Thomas' shooting, Mayor Nagin is "furious," according press secretary Sally Forman: "He turned and said: 'We need to declare martial law. This is not what we're dealing with right now. We are dealing with search and rescue. We're dealing with saving lives. If some thug or some thugs are going to go after our cops, then we're going after them.'"
Traumatized by the storm, two NOPD officers, Lawrence Celestine and Paul Accardo commit suicide within days of one another in early September. On Sept. 5, The Boston Globe quotes Chief Compass as saying that "'the world can't understand' what has happened in New Orleans in recent days."
Times-Picayune reporter Gordon Russell and freelance photographer Marko Georgiev encounter and photograph officers standing near two motionless bodies on the ground. Officers pull guns on Russell and Georgiev, frisk them and take Russell's notebook and one of Georgiev's cameras. Neither Russell nor Georgiev can determine if the two men are dead or alive, and no police reports are ever filed about the incident. But the officers fail to take the memory card from Georgiev's camera, and in December 2009, FRONTLINE, ProPublica and The Times-Picayune publish the photos, hoping to determine what happened to the two men.
In August 2010, Russell tracks down the men in the photographs, Robert Williams and Ernest "Ricky" Bell -- both are alive and allege that police beat them after mistaking them for participants in a shootout. On Aug. 14, 2010, the Justice Department opens a civil rights investigation into the case.
Police receive reports of a man driving a stolen Kentwood Springs truck attacking and robbing civilians when they approach for water. A group of officers zero in on several parked trucks; New Orleans resident Keenon McCann is standing near them, reportedly holding a gun. The group opens fire and shoots McCann, but upon arresting him, no weapon is found. Two of the officers involved, Capt. Jeff Winn and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, claim that they were in serious danger at the time of the shooting, while a friend of McCann claims that reports of him being armed are "bogus."
McCann is arrested but released on his own recognizance. He is never charged with a crime and later files a civil lawsuit against the NOPD. McCann is murdered in August 2008 with the lawsuit pending. No one has been charged in his death. Federal investigators are now looking into the circumstances surrounding his 2005 shooting.
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco brings in 300 Arkansas National Guard troops to help restore order. She states: "They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded. ... These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect they will."
"What we were doing was strengthening the appearance of a lawful environment," Blanco explains to FRONTLINE. "Everybody here had now gotten very fearful, whether it was justified or not. I just decided that we needed to make a very dramatic statement to calm the media down and to calm the citizenry down."
Glover is allegedly shot by a police officer near an Algiers strip mall where he and a friend, Bernard Calloway, are picking up stolen goods. Glover's brother, Edward King, is called to the scene. King waves down motorist William Tanner, who drives Glover and King to a makeshift police station at Habans Elementary School. Tanner and King say that upon arriving, they are handcuffed and assaulted. Tanner's car, with Glover still inside, is driven away by police. Glover is never again seen alive.
A burned car containing Glover's badly charred body is discovered on a levee by two private security consultants about a week after Hurricane Katrina. One of the men, Istvan Balogh, reports his findings to federal authorities, the NOPD, the state police and the military. Another week goes by before Glover's remains are taken to the coroner's office. In his final report, Coroner Frank Minyard leaves the cause of death blank, and the case is set aside. Eight months later, Glover's remains are identified through DNA evidence and returned to the family.
On Dec. 18, 2008, ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson's article on the Glover case is published in The Nation. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten tells FRONTLINE the story was "an incredible catalyst and a lead for us in our investigation." The FBI begins investigating Glover's death as a possible civil rights violation.
On June 11, 2010, former Officer David Warren is charged with shooting and killing Glover; four other officers are indicted for their roles in the incident: Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann and Officer Greg McRae are charged with assaulting Tanner and King, burning the car containing Glover's body and obstructing a federal investigation; former Lt. Robert Italiano and Lt. Travis McCabe are charged with obstructing justice and lying to the FBI. McCabe is also charged with perjury.
McDonald, a 41-year-old drifter who had recently moved to New Orleans from Connecticut, is shot in the back and killed after allegedly threatening officers with a gun and refusing to drop his weapon.
Matthew McDonald's family in Connecticut receives several conflicting accounts of his death. It's not until they're contacted by a reporter in late 2009 that they learn he had been shot by a police officer. As of August 2010, a federal grand jury is investigating the case.
Officer Ronald Mitchell and his partner Officer Ray Jones claim that Brumfield, waving something shiny in his left hand, ran toward their police vehicle and jumped on the hood. Mitchell says his feared for his life and shot Brumfield, killing him. Brumfield's family asserts that Danny was trying to wave down help when the cruiser repeatedly accelerated into him.
Brumfield's family files a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of New Orleans, and they are awarded $400,000 in July 2008. In August 2010, Mitchell and Jones receive letters indicating they are targets in a federal investigation into Brumfield's death.
Police receive a distress call indicating that members of the NOPD are being shot at on the Danziger Bridge. Several officers pile into a Budget rental truck, drive to the scene and open fire. Six civilians are shot; two, James Brissette and Ronald Madison, die from their injuries.
In December 2006, the New Orleans District Attorney's office indicts seven officers in the shootings. Judge Raymond Bigelow dismisses the charges in October 2008 due to prosecutorial missteps. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten announces the start of a federal investigation a month later. After an exhaustive inquiry, the feds allege that the civilians on the bridge were unarmed and that police concocted a massive conspiracy to cover up their actions.
Eleven officers are indicted for their roles in the incident: Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, former Officer Robert Faulcon and Officer Anthony Villavaso are each charged with a civil rights violation in the shooting death of Brisette, as well as for injuring several members of the Bartholomew family.
Faulcon and Bowen are also charged with civil rights violations in the death of Madison; Faulcon is charged with killing the mentally disabled man, who was shot in the back; and Bowen is charged with kicking and stomping on Madison's body after he had been shot.
Homicide detectives Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and former Sgt. Gerard Dugue are charged, along with Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso, with participating in the coverup, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to investigators.
Five additional current and former officers have pled guilty to various charges: Ignatius Hills to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of misprision of a felony, or failing to report a crime; Michael Hunter to one count of conspiring to obstruct justice and one count of misprision of a felony; Robert Barrios to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice; Michael Lohman to obstructing justice; and Jeffrey Lehrmann to misprison of a felony.
Chief Eddie Compass resigns and is replaced by his second-in-command, Warren Riley. At the time, the department is under heavy scrutiny over leadership failures and allegations of officers abandoning their posts during the hurricane.
In February, Mitch Landrieu is elected mayor. He appoints Nashville police chief Ronal Serpas, a former NOPD deputy superintendent who was second-in-command under Richard Pennington, to lead the department. Critics hope that Serpas -- having served under Pennington and with experience outside of New Orleans -- can help reform the troubled department.
On May 5, Mayor Landrieu sends a letter [PDF] to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for his "support and partnership in transforming the New Orleans Police Department," stating that he "inherited a police force that has been described by many as one of the worst police departments in the country."
In August, members of the Justice Department are dispatched to New Orleans to investigate the city's police department, root out corruption and advise leaders on improving the department's relationship with citizens.
As of Aug. 25, more than a dozen current and former officers have been indicted, and there are at least nine ongoing federal investigations of the NOPD, most of which involve actions taken by the police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Sources: Press accounts; Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard Moore (Louisiana State University Press, 2010); "Shielded From Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States" (Human Rights Watch, 1998); History of New Orleans Police Department (City of New Orleans).