Just this week, a federal judge overturned the convictions of all five New Orleans police officers who had been linked to the shooting of UNARMED civilians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This includes Kenneth Bowen, whom prosecutors said sprayed a crowd of unarmed civilians with an AK-47 as they huddled behind a concrete barrier.
The judge claimed that prosecutors had engaged in “grotesque” misconduct in the handling of the case. All five officers are free to go, in spite of having shot unarmed civilians.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt claimed that that federal prosecutors in New Orleans had “anonymously posted damning online critiques of the accused officers and the New Orleans Police Department before and during the 2011 trial.” This, according to A.C. Thompson of ProPublica, the judge believed was a “breach of professional ethics” that Engelhardt believed “had the effect of depriving the officers of their rights to a fair trial.”
The judge has granted the officers’ petition t for a new trial, so they are not exactly off the proverbial hook yet. Still, this is a hard blow to the families of the unarmed victims of these lawless officers.
Judge Engelhardt believes that “Re-trying this case is a very small price to pay in order to protect the validity of the verdict in this case, the institutional integrity of the Court, and the criminal justice system as a whole.”
That may well be, but retrying a case of such serious implications because the judge believed that anonymous comments on a website were made by prosecutors is setting a peculiar precedence. These are, we should remember, prosecutors, not the defense team of these officers. We should hardly expect the accused to get a less-than-fair trial because the prosecutors believed them to be guilty and openly stated such.
The officers were accused of opening fire on a group of civilians on and near the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. This resulted in the deaths of two unarmed individuals, and seriously injuring many others. The fifth officer was charged with covering up the mass shooting.
The anonymous comments were posted on NOLA.com, the website of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The statements said nothing other than comments about the corruption of these officers and the department in general, something which has since been confirmed and openly discussed in New Orleans politics and society. Thompson writes that “The judge’s decision nullifies – at least temporarily – a key success in the U.S. Department of Justice’s half-decade effort to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department.”
This is a major victory for corrupt cops in both New Orleans and throughout the nation.
Engelhardt claimed that the prosecutors had committed violations of the Code of Federal Regulations, and yet he failed to cite which violations those were.
The Justice Department said it was “disappointed in the judge’s action” and that they “are reviewing the decision and considering our options.”