Citing “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” on the part of federal lawyers here and in Washington, a judge on Tuesday threw out the 2011 convictions of five former police officers who had been found guilty in a momentous civil rights case of killing two citizens and engaging in an extensive cover-up in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
In a heated 129-page decision, Judge Kurt D. Englehardt of Federal District Court here declared that federal prosecutors had created a “prejudicial, poisonous atmosphere” in making anonymous online comments before and during the trial at nola.com, the Web site of The Times-Picayune, and ordered a new trial for all five officers.
The decision represented the collapse, for now, of a case that was seen as symbolizing both the profound breakdown of law and order after the hurricane and a deep rot within the city’s police department that dated back well before the storm.
While a scandal over anonymous online commenting had already cut short the federal careers of two local prosecutors and the United States attorney himself, Tuesday’s decision identified another, previously unknown commenter: a veteran lawyer in the Department of Justice in Washington who had a role in preparing the case for trial.
“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system,” the decision read. “Unfortunately though the focus has shifted from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues.”
Engelhardt said the evidence he has reviewed in granting the new trials “illustrates the diseased root that unfortunately casts an ineradicable taint on these convictions.”
The judges [sic] went on: “The government’s actions, and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism, and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecution, wherever it should occur in this country.”
Yeah you right, Judge.
You know, I believe those four cops probably are guilty. But I love that we live in a country in which a judge is willing to slap dishonest government prosecutors upside the head hard for their disgusting conduct, and give these men a new trial. Four cops believed by many to have been dirty, and guilty of these shootings, are going to get a new trial. That will upset a lot of people who thought justice had been done. But the judge is right to hold government prosecutors to such a high standard. As he pointed out in his ruling, this started out as a case about the gross abuse of law enforcement authority … and it still is, though this time not about the defendant police officers, but about the federal prosecutors who put them on trial. The judge said in his ruling that he considered the integrity of the jury’s verdict, and the pain that ordering a new trial would inflict on the New Orleans community. But he said the integrity of our system of justice was at stake. And he is right.
That we live in a legal system where this can happen ought to make us all feel better. You can’t have prosecutors with all the power of the state at their disposal behaving like these clowns did — going on social media and making prejudicial comments under assumed names. Like a bunch of damn teenagers. The victims of the Danziger Bridge shooting deserve justice. But so too do the accused police officers.
If you don’t know what the trial was about, check out this graphic. The T-P editorial denounces the prosecutorial team for letting the community down, but rightly says the Justice Department has to keep pushing on this case. From the editorial:
It is crucial for prosecutors to continue to pursue the Danziger case. What happened on the bridge was horrific. The people who were attacked weren’t armed. They didn’t threaten police. Yet officers opened fire on them. They shot off Susan Bartholomew’s right arm, shot Leonard Bartholomew in the back of the head, Lesha Bartholomew in the side and Jose Holmes in his abdomen, hand and jaw.
And they started almost immediately trying to cover up their mistakes. “We can’t have this looking like a massacre, ” a supervisor who arrived at the bridge told the driver of the truck that had brought the officers to the bridge.
Five officers pleaded guilty in the case. Their convictions still stand. Five more who had been found guilty apparently now will have to stand trial again.
“Our fight for justice continues,” Dr. Madison said in the family’s statement Tuesday. The Justice Department must carry on that fight — and must make sure everything is done properly this time.