Judge cites 'grotesque prosecutorial misconduct,' reverses cop convictions in Danziger Bridge case
Citing “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct,” including anonymous comments posted on the Internet by lawyers in then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s office and a Justice Department prosecutor, a federal judge has reversed the convictions of five former New Orleans police officers in a civil rights case over shooting deaths and injuries to unarmed civilians during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
New trials are now expected to take place concerning the Sept. 4, 2005 incident at the Danziger Bridge and an alleged cover-up afterwards, according to CBS/AP and NBC News.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune provides a link to a copy of the blistering 129-page opinion (PDF) filed Tuesday in the Eastern District of Louisiana case.
In the opinion, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt cited revelations that senior prosecutors had posted negative comments online under pseudonyms about the Danziger case and other cases.
While recognizing the “tragic circumstances” that led to civilian deaths and injuries, the emotional toll that a new trial will take on families and surviving victims and the time that has been put in to prosecute and defend the civil rights case, Engelhardt said he had no choice but to reverse the convictions.
“This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law, and corruption of the criminal justice system; unfortunately, though the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues,” he writes. “After much reflection, the Court cannot journey as far as it has in this case only to ironically accept grotesque prosecutorial misconduct in the end.”
ABAJournal.com: “5 Former New Orleans Cops Get Up to 65 Years in Post-Katrina Killings and Cover-Up”
ABAJournal.com: “New Orleans US Attorney Resigns Amidst Ethics Probe re Top Assistants’ Internet Postings”
Times-Picayune: “Then-U.S. Attorney Jim Letten knew about online comments by prosecutor, Jan Mann told judge”
Times-Picayune: “Justice Department attorney Karla Dobinski posted on NOLA.com about Danziger Bridge trial, judge reveals”
Updated Sept. 20 to add details about the misconduct.