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New Orleans settles suits in Danziger Bridge, Glover and Robair cases

27th December 2016   ·   0 Comments

Eleven years after two horrific, officer-involved shootings less than a week after Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and a brutal beating by police that claimed the life of a Tremé man, the City of New Orleans has finally settled the three resulting civil lawsuits including the Danziger Bridge incident that claimed two lives and left four other unarmed civilians wounded and the fatal shooting of an unarmed 31-year-old man in the parking lot of a West Bank strip mall whose remains were later found in a car that was abandoned and burned on the Mississippi River levee.

The third wrongful-death lawsuit resulted from the death of a Tremé resident who was beaten by two cops and dropped off at a local hospital where he died.

The three cases were part of a series of incidents that led to the investigation and prosecution of 20 NOPD officers, a scathing report by the U.S. Department of Justice that said the police department was rife with “abuse” and “corruption” and a federally mandated, 492-point consent decree aimed at overhauling the troubled department.

While some of the officers avoided prison time, some received light sentences and others had their sentences drastically reduced earlier this year, the City of New Orleans seized an opportunity last week to extend an olive branch, offer an apology and at least begin to make amends to surviving victims and victims’ families.

The City of New Orleans offered a public apology to those impacted by the unconstitutional practices of the former NOPD officers and announced that it reached a settlement agreement that would provide $13.3 million to be distributed among 17 plaintiffs in the three cases.

While the horrific, life-altering incidents occurred more than 11 years ago, for the families of the slain and wounded victims it might as well have happened yesterday.

Raymond Robair, a 48-year-old handyman who lived in the Faubourg Tremé, was beaten to death by two NOPD officers who dropped off his body outside charity Hospital not long before Katrina hit New Orleans.

Less than a week after Katrina, police fatally shot 17-year-old James Brissette and Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, as they attempted to cross the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans. Four other unarmed civilians — Susan Bar-tholomew, Lesha Bartholomew, Leonard Bartholomew and Jose Holmes — were also wounded during the incident on Sept. 4, 2005. Susan Bartholomew’s right arm was shot off by police, Leonard Bartholomew was shot in the back of the head, Lesha Bartholomew was shot in the side and Jose Holmes was shot in the abdomen, hand and jaw.

Just two days earlier, an NOPD officer shot 31-year-old Henry Glover as he stood in the parking lot of a Westbank strip mall. After he was shot, a good Samaritan gave Glover a ride to a makeshift police station at an Algiers elementary school. His remains were later found in an abandoned car, the one used to give him a ride to the elementary school, which was burned and left on the Mississippi River levee. Someone later removed Glover’s skull from the grisly murder scene and it has still not been returned to the family for proper burial.

Then Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan indicted the “Danziger 7” in 2006 but those charges were thrown out by Criminal Court Judge Raymond Bigelow. After five of the officers were convicted in 2010, a federal judge overturned those convictions after it was learned that several key federal prosecutors posted online comments about several active DOJ cases, including the Danziger Bridge shooting case. They were awaiting new trials this year but accepted a plea deal that drastically reduced their prison sentences, some by decades.

Although five officers were tried in the Glover trial, two were acquitted and three were convicted on an assortment of charges. The officer who killed Glover sought and was granted a new trial and was acquitted. The current Orleans Parish D.A. has refused to indict former NOPD Officer David Warren for firing the shot that led to Glover’s death. The only cop that remains behind bars in the Glover case is former NOPD Officer Gregory McRae, the cop who burned the car with Glover’s remains in it. He is serving a prison sentence of more than 11 years.

At a Monday news conference that followed a private prayer service at Xavier University, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the media that the City of New Orleans apologizes for the heinous acts committed by members of the New Orleans Police Department and that the family members extended forgiveness to the City and the NOPD.

“It is unfair of us to ask that, but unbelievably it has been accepted,” he said. Landrieu and NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison said Monday that police reforms that been implemented since the consent decree began in August 2013 will prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

“If we find a problem, we do not make excuses,” Harrison said Monday. “We take swift action against anyone who chooses to make a bad decision. You have my commitment that we will continue to build a professional, community-oriented police department.”

Sherrell Johnson, the mother of Danziger shooting victim James Brissette, said she “wholeheartedly” accepted the City’s apology.

“Since that time, it has been an awful long and rough road. But me and my family got through it,” Johnson said.

“Now this is closure for me, and I can go forward… because I know the old New Orleans does not exist anymore,” she later added.

While the word “forgiveness” was used often in stories about the settlement and apology from the City last week, it was abundantly clear that not everyone impacted by the incidents were ready to forgive and forget what happened 11 years ago.

Rebecca Glover, the aunt of shooting victim Henry Glover, told reporters after Monday’s press conference that no amount of money is going to “bring Henry back.

“I’m not ready to forgive,” she added. “I’m not at that point yet. That’s something I have to talk about with my pastor.”

Lance Madison, the brother of Danziger victim Ronald Madison, said in a statement Monday, “I am praying that someone, that someday, may be able to find forgiveness for those who caused harm to me and my brother Ronald and our family, I pray that God will give me the strength to forgive them. I have to be truthful and tell you that I am struggling. This has been a very hard ordeal for me to get through. I want to look forward to a better place, and know that forgiveness is an important part of moving forward.”

In a separate story, Lance Madison, who was arrested and accused of shooting at officers during the Danziger Bridge massacre but was later cleared, told The New York Times, “I guess the only thing that ends is we don’t go to court anymore.”

Dr. Romell Madison, who led the push to convince the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Danziger Bridge shootings, Henry Glover case and several others, told reporters in New Orleans Monday, “This has been a long and painful process for me, my family and other families.”

“No matter how you slice it, these families and the people of New Orleans have a lot to be angry about — the way these cops were set free by the online posting scandal involving key federal prosecutors, the way fellow officers and others called the Danziger cops ‘heroes,’ the way these officers acted like they didn’t think they did anything wrong, the drastic reduction of their original sentences, the D.A.’s refusal to charge former Officer David Warren for the murder of Henry Glover, the way the City has said it didn’t need a consent decree because the NOPD was already implementing its own reforms, the federal monitor’s soft approach to ensuring that these federally mandated reforms are implemented and many, many other things,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a New Orleans businessman and former congressional candidate, told The Louisiana Weekly Wednesday. “It is painfully clear to anyone who is paying attention that reforms are still desperately needed in the NOPD and throughout the local criminal justice system.”

Lashonda Enclade, the daughter of NOPD fatal-beating victim Raymond Robair, said Monday that she too is having a hard time forgiving those who caused her father’s violent death. Officers Melvin Williams and Matthew Dean Moore were initially cleared of any wrongdoing but when the case was reopened Williams was convicted of beating Robair and sentenced to 21 years behind bars and Moore was found guilty of conspiracy and lying to federal prosecutors and sentenced to five years.

“The word ‘forgive’ is a very, very hard word,” Lashonda Enclade told reporters. “I’m not going to stand here and say I forgive them right now. It’s something that needs to be worked on.”

While Enclade was grateful for the Landrieu administration’s efforts to implement reforms in the troubled police department, she made it a point to tell the mayor to “keep it up — you’ve got to keep watching them.

“You cannot take your eyes off them,” Enclade added.

The Rev. Raymond Brown, a community activist and president of National Action Now, said that he and others in the community were offended by the fact that the Landrieu administration did not invite the entire community to come out and hear the apology. “That was disrespectful and petty,” Brown told The Louisiana Weekly. “The NOPD and the City of New Orleans violated the public trust and all of us deserve an apology.

“But the mayor wanted to control all the people at the Xavier event and tie a big ribbon around it like a Christmas play. This was political theater and an effort to make it look like this administration has magically transformed the city’s political, social and racial landscape. He still doesn’t understand that he can’t control everything and everyone — that doesn’t happen in a democracy.

“This city still has a long way to go,” Brown added. “The NOPD still has a lot of work to do to move away from unconstitutional policing, racial profiling and excessive force. Right now, it looks like they’re focusing on cosmetic reforms and making it look like the department has made drastic changes when it clearly hasn’t.”

Community United for Change, the grassroots organization that hosted community meetings bringing together residents and Department of Justice officials for three years before the DOJ decided to investigate several high-profile NOPD cases, issued a statement last week that casts a cloud over the Landrieu administration’s handling of the settlement and its apology to victims of unconstitutional policing in New Orleans.

“Mitch Landrieu, as mayor of New Orleans, has sought nothing more than to disenfranchise the victims and the people by using the clergy and the emotional disruption from the loss and/or wounding of a loved one to feather his own cap by forcing unreal and unjust settlements on the grieving loved ones. This, as a means of burying the past, was orchestrated to save the city money and to disenfranchise the constitutional protections provided for citizens, by presenting a false tempered future,” CUC wrote.

“High crimes and misdemeanors were perpetrated by law enforcement agents who are supposed to protect those who cannot protect themselves…”

Calling the City’s gesture a “hollow apology” and a “charade,” CUC added, “The fact that many of the plaintiffs were not comfortable with accepting the apology or the settlement speaks volumes of a forced political deal that was brokered to keep evidence from the public that would possibly reveal more of the dirty tricks the current NOPD employs.

“For the mayor to hide behind the cloth of the clergy and to use the emotions of family members to pressure a deal is not an act of forgiveness, it’s an act of desperation… Where is the justice?”

This article originally published in the December 26, 2016 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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