August 25, 2010
Henry Glover was last seen alive in the backseat of a white Chevy Malibu on Sept. 2, 2005, just days after Hurricane Katrina hit. Curled up and bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest, Glover had been rushed to a temporary SWAT compound in the Algiers section of New Orleans by his brother Edward King and a Good Samaritan hoping to get medical attention.
"When I got there, I thought they was going to help us," King says. "But all I hear is, 'Get out the car, get out the car.' So I'm hollering: 'My brother's shot. He's shot.' The first thing they did was put us in handcuffs. And I'm like: 'Why? We're coming for help.'" Glover would soon be dead. Later, his charred remains were discovered on the banks of the Mississippi River, inside a car that had apparently been set on fire. The man who found the grisly scene tells FRONTLINE, "The magnitude of the way [that car] was destroyed, it was telling a story."
Now, five years after the hurricane, FRONTLINE, in partnership with ProPublica and The Times-Picayune, presents Law & Disorder. Beginning with the death of Henry Glover -- a case that has resulted in the indictment of five New Orleans police officers by a federal grand jury -- Law & Disorder digs deep into a number of incidents in which police shot civilians. It raises new questions about the actions of police officers -- and their command structure -- in the aftermath of the catastrophe.
"What happened here in the days after Katrina would call into question whether the mayor and others helped create a climate in which the police felt justified in taking extreme measures to regain control over the city, ultimately setting this chain of events in motion that has completely turned the New Orleans Police Department upside down," says correspondent and ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, whose initial investigation of Glover's death sparked the federal probe back in late 2008.
Law & Disorder reveals that, in the midst of post-Katrina chaos, law-enforcement commanders issued orders to ignore long-established rules governing use of deadly force. FRONTLINE reports that in one instance an NOPD captain told a group of officers: "We have authority by martial law to shoot looters."
The order suggests a line was drawn from New Orleans' top officials to officers in the field. Could stealing food, water or a TV now mean a death sentence?
Such a command, taken on its own, violates the intent of rules governing how and when police officers can use their guns. "The standards on deadly force are fairly clear," says Sam Walker, Emeritus Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska. "An officer can use deadly force where there is a threat to someone's life … or that this person is armed and fleeing and likely to commit another armed offense. That's a very narrow range of situations."
The Glover probe, which has led to charges of murder, obstruction of justice and civil rights violations, is one of at least nine ongoing federal investigations into the NOPD. Most involve actions taken by police in the days after the storm, including the Danziger Bridge incident, in which police shot six civilians, killing two. Five former officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the Danziger case thus far.
"People had been in the [Superdome] for several days and there was lawlessness on the street," Sally Forman, then press secretary for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, tells FRONTLINE in her first television interview about what happened in central command during Katrina. "That's when the mayor says: 'Let's stop search and rescue and bring our force back to controlling the streets. Let's stop the looting, let's stop the lawlessness, and let's put our police officers on the streets, so that our citizens are protected.'"
"I never declared martial law," former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco tells FRONTLINE. "I just decided that we needed to make a very strong statement to calm the media down and to calm the citizenry down … to show that we were in control of the environment."
"I remember at the time [former NOPD] Deputy Police Chief [Warren] Riley walked up in a pair of blue jeans, his uniform shirt and a ball cap, saying that we were not going to allow the looters to take the city; we were going to more or less protect the borders of it and march through downtown and take the city back," says Kevin Diel, a former NOPD officer. "It was a very broad order. What exactly did he mean, you know? Does he expect us, rank and file, to go through the streets, you know, shooting looters? Or how do you take a city that's underwater, you know?"
"We believed that we would lose officers, or were losing officers," Riley ultimately tells FRONTLINE. "We believed that people were shooting at our helicopters initially. That turned out not to be the case."
"The NOPD is a department that is in great need of work," federal prosecutor Jim Letten tells FRONTLINE. "It is in need of restoration, reformation … an absolute complete transformation, which has to happen, if NOPD is to survive as an effective law enforcement agency. .... I think it's necessary even to the survival of this city."