NOPD conviction vacated in Glover murder case
26th December 2012 · 0 Comments
By Edmund W. Lewis
A federal appeals court in New Orleans on December 17 overturned the conviction of former New Orleans police officer David Warren, one of the former cops tried and convicted of an assortment of charges related to the murder of Henry Glover, who was shot by police and later burned in an abandoned car by cops just days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans more than seven years ago. After Glover’s murder and the burning of his remains, his charred skull was removed from the vehicle.
On Monday, a federal court ruled that the officer convicted of shooting Glover deserved a new trial, essentially nullifying the 25-year sentence Warren received two years ago.
“We hold that because Warren has demonstrated that he suffered specific and compelling prejudice as a consequence of the district court’s refusal to sever his trial from that of the other defendants, the district court abused its discretion in denying Warren’s repeated motions to sever under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 14 (a),” the Fifth Circuit Court said in papers filed Monday. “As a result, we VACATE Warren’s convictions and sentences and REMAND for a new trial.”
Monday’s ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which comes two years after convictions were announced in December 2010, makes Warren the second former police officer in the racially polarizing case to be granted a new trial. Former NOPD officer Travis McCabe who was convicted of writing a false police report was granted a new trial this past May by U.S. Judge Lance Africk, the same federal judge who handed down the convictions in 2010.
A third former officer convicted in the case, Greg McRae, had a conviction overturned for denying the Glover family access to the court due to what the three-judge panel deemed insufficient evidence, but was not able to convince the court to throw out other convictions related to him setting fire to the car that held Henry Glover’s remains on a Mississippi River levee.
“We hold that the evidence is insufficient to support McRae’s conviction for denying Glover’s descendants and survivors the right of access to courts, and we therefore REVERSE and VACATE that conviction” the court said Monday. “We AFFIRM McCabe’s other convictions, reject his double jeopardy challenge and and REMAND for re-sentencing.”
In December 2010, a federal jury ruled that David Warren was guilty of shooting down Henry Glover, 31, on September 2, 2005 at a West Bank strip mall being used by the 4th Police District. An acquaintance, William Tanner, assisted the wounded Glover by giving him a ride to an Algiers Elementary School being used by New Orleans police in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, after Tanner and Glover turned to the cops for assistance, they were beaten by police and Glover ultimately was killed and left dead on the levee.
Warren testified during the trial that he thought Glover was an armed looter when he fired at him from the roof of the strip mall with a rifle and was not certain Glover had been hit by his shot. He also told jurors that he was unaware that Glover later died and that his remains were set aflame in Tanner’s car.
Two other former officers were acquitted of charges in the case two years ago.
The Louisiana Weekly asked Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Branch of the NAACP, what meaning last week’s overturned convictions have for the civil rights community and the community’s ability to trust the justice system.
“It looks like every week there’s something going on that erodes the community’s trust in the justice system,” King said. “From the problems that we’ve had with the NOPD, the problems that eventually surfaced even regarding the justice system on the federal level with regard to Mr. Letten’s office, that trust has been eroded instead of built up. This is just another blow” to the community’s trust.
“Right now in the community, we are hearing all different kinds of theories including one that says the judge ruled to refuse severance of the trials because that was part of the setup, to give the defendant an out if things didn’t go the way they wanted,” King added. “There is a lot of concern in the community, that what will happen is the officer whose conviction was thrown out will have a chance to be retried outside of New Orleans. That’s of great concern. It has hurt, it has hurt.
“That’s on top of the mental fatigue that a lot of the folks in the community are suffering from now,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “When I say ‘mental fatigue,’ we’ve had so much to deal with as far as the killing of not only Mr. Glover but also the killings on the Danziger Bridge, all of the different trials we’ve been through and the killing of Mr. Robair. …Some folks in the community are just worn-down and thought that we were going to have a little time to catch our breath and now this has come up. I’m not a mental health expert but I know that it takes a toll. It really takes a toll.”
“The Black community will have (and continuously has had) no faith in the justice system in light of what has happened in this unfortunate case,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former congressional candidate and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to go through the same treatment, the same unfair, unconstitutional and inhumane treatment that Blacks have been subjected to for the past 400 to 500 years,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and host of local cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly Tuesday. “Monday’s ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court basically tells Black folks that they’re not considered citizens of this country and protections granted to us are minimal at best.”
Johnson, who attended Monday’s news conference with the Glover family, says it was evident even before the Henry Glover trial ended two years ago that something underhanded was going on just below the surface. “A lot was said about the mistreatment of the system as well as what the ruling is going to do to the family and Black people in New Orleans,” Johnson said. “None of that was reported by the mainstream media organizations that were represented at the press conference.
“It was mentioned loud and clear at Monday’s press conference that this could have been avoided,” Johnson continued. “In fact, defense attorneys for the cops raised this at trial and the judge (Lance Africk) refused to entertain it al all, which suggests to me that the system works in concert with each level, component and branch. If they want to find a way for police to get off, they give them escape route, a back door. That’s exactly what they have done — they have given them a back-door escape route.”
W.C. Johnson said it was painful to watch and listen as the elder members of the Glover family reflected on Monday’s setback given the toll the first trial took on the family. “Rebecca Glover, Henry Glover’s aunt, was hit so hard that we were concerned for her immediate health,” he said.
Johnson said he doesn’t think it was a coincidence that Monday’s ruling was purposely handed down in the midst of the holiday season.
While a number of public officials weighed in on the investigation of online posting in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten’s recent resignation, very few have spoken about the latest developments in the Glover case and how this will impact efforts to reform the NOPD or the Black community’s trust in the criminal justice system.
“Elected officials will not comment publicly on high-profile cases such as this so as not to receive any backlash from their major financial supporters who control their behavior and definitely not for the interests of those who classify themselves as Black. He who pays the piper calls the tunes,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha told The Louisiana Weekly.
“That’s why i have a problem with Black folks across the board here in New Orleans who continually allow the powers that be to treat us the way that they treat us,” Johnson told The Weekly. “We have no Black politicians, no Black clergy, we have no Black folks in prominent positions standing up for us to stop this onslaught of what is happening to us on a daily basis.”
Johnson said the Black Church as an institution today is not immune to criticism about its lackluster role in the liberation struggle in the 21st century. “The Black Church today is nowhere near what it was 100 years ago, or 130 to 140 years ago in terms of activism and standing up for folks,” he said. “It’s not even close.”
Johnson said that while a lack of courage and a sense of purpose are part of the problem, faith-based groups that are more committed to securing 501(c) (3) funding than they are to fighting for justice and democracy is also a major obstacle. “Essentially, these groups become part of the system,” Johnson explained. “Over time, they develop an addition to 501(c) (3) funding and compromise themselves and their historical mission.”
Johnson said Tuesday that he is convinced that someone is going to have to stand up and at least attempt to fill the Black leadership vacuum in New Orleans by demonstrating his or her commitment to securing justice and democracy by any means necessary. “Unless individual Black folks find the courage to stand up, nothing’s ever going to change here,” he said. “Once they identify themselves, (Black grassroots leadership) is there, we’re with you. But someone has got to stand up and say, ‘That’s it — I’ve had enough.’ We have to be willing to do whatever it takes to be free. We’ve got to do that individually first before we can be successful collectively.”
Warren’s attorneys, Rick Simmons and Julian Murray Jr., are seeking to get him released on bond and plan to file a motion for a change of venue for his new trial.
The defense attorneys told the local daily paper that their client, who is currently serving time in South Carolina, would not pose a flight risk if he is released on bond and that all of the publicity from the 2010 trial have made it impossible to find an impartial jury in New Orleans. “The well has been poisoned,” Simmons said. “If there’s ever a case for a [change of venue], this is it,” he told the paper.
Danatus King said that while last week’s ruling was a major setback to efforts to secure justice for Henry Glover and reform the NOPD, he added that it also presented Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzarro with a chance to step up and take on David Warren.
“There’s an opportunity now for the district attorney to pursue state charges, including murder,” King said. “I know that previously the district attorney said that he was not going to pursue any charges because it was being conducted by the federal government and he didn’t want to step on any toes and they had asked him to stand down. This is an opportunity now to actually pursue those murder charges. There’s no barrier to the district attorney doing that.”
Asked about how last week’s ruling might impact the proposed NOPD consent decree, King said, “I don’t think the consent decree is worth the paper that it’s written on. This reinforces that. The persons that were in charge of looking out for citizens’ welfare that were representing the city when the consent decree was being crafted are out of office now and have left under questionable circumstances.… Now there are some questions about Mr. Letten’s integrity as well as questions about the integrity of his next in command, Ms. Mann, and questions about the leadership in that office, period.
“Not only do we have questions about the integrity of the people that were advocating on our behalf coming out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but while this consent decree was being crafted after the Justice Department issued an edict out of Washington about how questionable the practices of the NOPD were and how they violated the constitutional rights of citizens’ rights regarding stops and interrogations — even in the midst of all that, we had emails coming out of the NOPD encouraging officers to continue to violate citizens’ civil rights by illegal stops in spite of the fact that they had been criticized for that. If you have a consent decree that has been crafted that allegedly criticizes that practice, if you have any writing coming out of Washington saying that type of practice is wrong but you still have that continually and being upheld, then that says to me, ‘What good is the consent decree?’ If you have this consent decree saying that it’s wrong to do it but you have a police department saying ‘We’re going to continue to do it, we’re going to continue to justify doing it and we’re not going to stop it’ and there’s no mechanism in the consent decree to stop the department from doing it, what good is the consent decree? It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”
King said it is important that local civil rights organizations and the community be allowed to offer input before the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana is chosen. “That is something we feel very strongly about,” he said. “That’s an opinion that’s been expressed often by members of the community.
“To this point, we have not had any contact with anyone out of Sen. Landrieu’s office or DC.”
A group of Black New Orleans residents that included activists Carl Galmon and Randolph Scott penned a letter to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week seeking input before Jim Letten’s successor is chosen. “We are requesting that the African-American community in New Orleans have serious input in the selection of the next U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District State of La.,” the letter states.
Five other former NOPD officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge killings of two unarmed residents and the wounding of four other people have asked a federal judge to overturn their convictions, arguing that federal prosecutors may have committed prosecutorial misconduct or engage in other illegal procedures.
Even before the Glover press conference, Rebecca Glover was inundated with phone calls from members of the media, supporters and others. As she answered questions and shared news about the case with loved ones and well-wishers, it was clear that revisiting this case will be anything but easy for the Glover family.
Henry Glover’s loved ones gathered Monday to share their thoughts about Monday’s ruling and what it means for their family and the community. “I thought Judge Africk knew what he was doing,” Edna Glover, Henry’s mother, told reporters.
“I just wish it would come to a close,” she told The Associated Press.
Rebecca Glover said that learning that she and the family would have to endure another grueling murder trial to get a conviction for her slain nephew “knocked the wind out” of her.
“I don’t know how I’m going to hold up,” Rebecca Glover said.
“We thought we could pick up our pieces and go on, but we’ve got to rehear this all over again?’’ Rebecca Glover asked. “It hurts. It really hurts.”
Two years ago, after waiting five years for the case to go to trial, Rebecca Glover vowed to show up to federal court every day until the police officers responsible for her nephew’s death were brought to justice. Now she faces the reality of having to show up again every day and listen to more disturbing stories and testimony about the murder of Henry Glover.
In speaking about the toll such trials can take on the families of murder victims, Danatus King talked about the ordeal the Glover family and others are facing as the cops convicted of killing innocent civilians get new trials,
“Family members who thought that they could halfway put this behind them — now they’re going to have to deal with this again and make a decision as to whether or not they’re going to subject themselves to going every day to trial, if it’s kept here in New Orleans,” King told The Louisiana Weekly. “They’re going to have to make a decision as to whether they’re going to subject themselves to going there, hearing testimony again, hearing folks who may be lying. They have to go through the ordeal of hearing their murdered loved one’s character assassinated and have to hear and deal with the description of the body that has been recovered but is still missing its skull. The skull still hasn’t been recovered. They’re going to have to go through all of that.
“There may be some family members and others in the community that may say they just can’t go through that anymore and want to just leave it alone.
“That decision (to overturn the convictions) is a blow to the family of Henry Glover and the community.”
This article was originally published in the December 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper