Fourth New Orleans Officer Charged In Coverup Of Post-Katrina Shootings

A fourth New Orleans police officer was charged today in connection with the coverup of the police shootings of unarmed civilians on Danziger Bridge in New Orleans less than a week after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Officer Robert Barrios is accused of conspiring to obstruct justice with other officers who were on the scene when police killed two people and seriously wounded four others in what the Times-Picayune editorial board recently dubbed a “massacre.”The bill of information, which typically precedes a guilty plea, alleges “that Barrios and other officers discussed the stories that they would tell about what happened on the bridge and that, on Jan. 25, 2006, before the officers gave formal, audiotaped statements about the incident, they gathered with supervisors in an abandoned and gutted out building, where they again went over the stories they would tell on tape.”

“The bill of information alleges that the purpose of the conspiracy Barrios joined was to provide false and misleading information in order to ensure that the shootings would appear to be legally justified and that the involved officers would therefore be shielded from liability.”

TPMmuckraker reported earlier this week that the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, which is handling the case, is pledging to reform New Orleans’ notorious police department — potentially even bringing a civil rights lawsuit against the city to force change.

Three other officers have pleaded guilty since February to charges associated with the coverup of the shootings.

Here’s the full press release on the charge against Barrios:

FOURTH NEW ORLEANS POLICE OFFICER CHARGED IN DANZIGER BRIDGE CASE

WASHINGTON – A one-count bill of information filed today in federal court charges New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) Officer Robert Barrios with conspiring with fellow NOPD officers to obstruct justice by covering up a police-involved shooting in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department announced today.

The Sept. 4, 2005, shooting on the Danziger Bridge left two civilians dead and four others seriously injured. According to the bill of information, Barrios and other officers rode in a large Budget rental truck to the Danziger Bridge, where they encountered a group of civilians who were walking across the bridge to get food and supplies from a supermarket.

On the east side of the bridge, officers fired at the group of civilians, killing one man and seriously wounding four members of a family. Officers then traveled to the west side of the bridge, where they encountered Lance and Ronald Madison, who were crossing the bridge on their way to the dentistry office of one of their other brothers. On the west side of the bridge, an officer shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man with severe mental and physical disabilities.

The bill of information charges Barrios with agreeing with other officers to obstruct justice during the investigations that followed the shooting. Specifically, it charges that Barrios and other officers discussed the stories that they would tell about what happened on the bridge and that, on Jan. 25, 2006, before the officers gave formal, audiotaped statements about the incident, they gathered with supervisors in an abandoned and gutted out building, where they again went over the stories they would tell on tape. The bill of information alleges that the purpose of the conspiracy Barrios joined was to provide false and misleading information in order to ensure that the shootings would appear to be legally justified and that the involved officers would therefore be shielded from liability. The defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

These charges against Barrios follow guilty pleas from three other former NOPD officers involved in the Danziger Bridge case. Michael Lohman, a former lieutenant, pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice, and admitted that he knew of, facilitated and participated in the creation of false reports about the shooting. Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former NOPD detective who then became an agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pleaded guilty to covering up a felony, and admitted that he too participated in the cover-up of the Danziger Bridge shooting. Lehrmann admitted during his plea hearing that officers had coordinated efforts to provide false statements, and that a supervisor assigned to investigate the shooting had made up witnesses and planted evidence. Most recently, on April 7, 2010, former NOPD Officer Michael Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring to obstruct justice and to covering up a felony he observed while he was on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. Hunter, in his plea hearing, admitted that he drove the Budget truck to the Danziger Bridge on the day of the shooting, and that he and other officers opened fire on civilians who did not appear to have any weapons, and who were “casually walking on the roadway” when the police arrived. Hunter stated that a supervisor on the scene held out his assault rifle and, in a sweeping motion, fired repeatedly at civilians who had, by that time, taken cover behind a concrete barrier. Describing the shooting of Ronald Madison that occurred a few minutes later, Hunter stated that another NOPD officer shot Madison in the back, without warning, as Madison ran away, unarmed, following his brother toward a nearby motel. After Madison was shot, according to Hunter, the supervisor who had shot people earlier on the east side of the bridge, repeatedly kicked or stomped on Madison as he lay wounded and dying.

This case, which is ongoing, is being investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

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