“To protect and serve”: The traditional motto for U.S. law enforcement seems to be in question, especially when it comes to the New Orleans Police Department.
In a city that is now on the Top 10 list of most dangerous places in the world – with Detroit as the only other U.S. city on the list – crime committed by citizens is not the only thing that is all too common. We can now add police brutality, corruption and the abuse of power to that list.
Eight investigations of New Orleans officers are under way into allegations of unjustified actions, most of which resulted in civilian deaths. Two of them, recounted here, as especially chilling.
One case includes seven officers who appear to be involved in the unlawful and unethical cover-up and killing of two unarmed citizens and the serious injury of four others on the Danziger Bridge. Officers involved who are cooperating with the probe have provided some gruesome details.
Here’s the account that has been pieced together: On Sept. 4, 2005, the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina, officers from NOPD’s 7th District were working out of a temporary station when they loaded into a large Budget rental truck and drove up to the bridge in response to a call.
As a handful of people walked on the roadway of the bridge, an officer began firing shots. As the people scattered, the officer stopped the truck, and the sergeant got out and fired an assault rifle down toward the civilians.
Two men, Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19, were killed. Madison was shot seven times in the back.
One of the officers, Kenneth Bowen, who already had faced second-degree murder charges (later dropped) in the 2001 shooting of a 28-year-old man, repeatedly kicked and stomped Madison after he was shot several times, according to one officer’s account.
Now, nearly five years later, four officers have pleaded guilty after initially fabricating a story of civilian resistance, admitting that those civilians were unarmed and did not pose any threat or danger.
In another case, three officers from NOPD’s SWAT unit are being investigated for burning a car containing the remains of a 31-year-old man whom investigators believe was shot by an officer a few days after Hurricane Katrina.
Henry Glover was wounded in a shooting Sept. 2, 2005, behind a strip mall. According to a report, Officer David Warren said he fired a rifle at a man who seemed to be charging towards businesses at a strip mall.
Media reports say Glover collapsed near a gas station with a gunshot wound to his chest. William Tanner, 41, had pulled up his car looking for gas when he was stopped by Glover’s brother, Edward King. They put the man in the back seat of Tanner’s Chevy Malibu to find medical care for the wounded man.
With Glover, Glover’s brother and another man in the car, Tanner drove to Paul B. Habans Elementary School, a place he knew to be occupied by police.
However, once the group arrived, members of the NOPD SWAT unit handcuffed the uninjured men while Glover lay in the vehicle. Tanner said the officers accused them of being looters, beat them and denied aid to Glover.
Eventually, one officer took Tanner’s keys and drove off in his car. Glover’s remains were recovered weeks later inside the car, which had been abandoned beside a levee blocks from the NOPD’s 4th District Station.
Tanner is said to have made several unsuccessful appeals to the NOPD to learn what happened to the car.
The New Orleans Police Department is steadily losing its credibility. This once-trusted police force has quickly become feared and hated. How are we supposed to trust those who continue to abuse their power?
NOPD’s failure to screen and deal with aggressive and unstable cops will cause the citizens of this city to lose faith and hope in the ones who are supposed “protect” and “serve” us. Police here often complain that it’s hard to contain the criminal element because citizens who witness crimes won’t speak up. Having officers on the force who commit acts like the ones above certainly doesn’t generate trust.
To rebuild trust among residents, the first step is for officials to deal with these cops justly and swiftly. It is our hope that the new mayor will bring in a strong police chief who can clean up the department and make us proud of our police force again.