Posted: Mar 11, 2010 1:15 PM by Letitia Walker
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A second former New Orleans police officer
pleaded guilty Thursday to covering up the deadly shooting of
unarmed residents after Hurricane Katrina, with a judge calling the
plot a "despicable" scheme that immeasurably compounded the
Jeffrey Lehrmann, who left the police department in 2006 and is
a special agent at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
office in Phoenix, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which
means he had knowledge of a crime and didn't report it. Another
former officer pleaded guilty last month to a conspiracy charge.
"I have neither imagined or heard of more despicable conduct by
law enforcement officers," U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said
of the case against the former homicide detective.
A court filing Thursday outlines new details about the alleged
cover-up that followed the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger
Bridge, which also led to a Justice Department investigation.
The filing says police fabricated two nonexistent witnesses,
kicked spent shell casings off the bridge weeks after the shooting
and held a secret meeting in a gutted-out police building to make
sure officers who shot at unarmed civilians got their false stories
straight before taping interviews.
The filing also reveals how police investigators carried out a
plot to plant a gun to make it appear the shootings were justified.
Several weeks after the shooting, Lehrmann went to an
unidentified investigator's home, where the investigator retrieved
a bag from a storage container in his garage. When Lehrmann asked
him what was in the bag, the investigator responded, "a ham
sandwich." Inside was a revolver.
"After the investigator assured the officers that the gun was
'clean,' they all went along with the plan to plant the gun," the
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who has been informed by prosecutors he is
a target of the probe, apparently is the unidentified investigator
referred to in the filing, according to his lawyer, Steve London.
London denied his client participated in any cover-up.
"There would be no reason for my client, with 30 years of
unblemished service, to do what this individual alleges he did,"
London said. "It makes no sense. He wasn't a shooter. He didn't
have anything to cover up."
Prosecutors said investigators didn't collect critical evidence
from the scene, including spent shell casings. In fact, Lehrmann
allegedly saw an unidentified sergeant kick casings off the bridge.
And in the weeks after the shooting, Lehrmann and other
investigators discussed how they could blame their failed
investigation on Hurricane Katrina and "use the storm to help make
the entire situation 'go away,"' the filing says.
After Thursday's hearing, a reporter approached Police
Superintendent Warren Riley in a coffee shop near the courthouse
and told him about some of the details in the filing.
"Unbelievable," said Riley, who has said he felt betrayed by
the cover up. "All I can say is, 'Wow."'
The shootings initially were seen as a symbol of the confusion
and lawlessness that followed in the weeks after Katrina hit - only
to become a mark of shame on the police department once the
Lehrmann, 38, of Anthem, Ariz., faces a maximum sentence of
three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing has been set
for June 10. He is free on $25,000 bond.
Michael Lohman, a retired New Orleans police lieutenant, pleaded
guilty last month to conspiracy to obstruct justice, but
prosecutors said Lehrmann was the first to agree to cooperate with
the Justice Department probe. State charges of murder or attempted
murder against seven other officers were thrown out by a judge.
Ronald Madison, 40 and mentally disabled, and James Brissette,
19, were killed and four others shot as they crossed the bridge in
search of food. The officers claimed they opened fire only after
being shot at. Lance Madison, who accompanied his brother, Ronald,
testified less than a month later that a group of teenagers started
shooting at them before they encountered police.
"This has been a devastating time for our family and for the
citizens of this city," Romell Madison, one of Ronald's brothers,
said after the hearing. "We want to ensure that this doesn't
happen to anyone else."