Post-Katrina Shootings by Police Get Federal Attention
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Federal agents have broadened their investigation of the New Orleans Police Department and are now looking into three post-Katrina police shootings detailed in a news series published by ProPublica, The Times-Picayune and the PBS series “Frontline” in December.
Assistant Superintendent Marlon Defillo of the NOPD confirmed that the FBI has subpoenaed documents relating to the shootings—which included police investigative reports, as well as other related files—in the past two months.
Separately, two independent experts who reviewed the newly available autopsy report of Matthew McDonald, one of those shot, said it raised fresh questions about the shooting and its circumstances. One expert said the man, a 41-year-old drifter from Connecticut, may have been hit by the single round that killed him as he lay prone on the ground. The other expert criticized efforts to gather evidence, calling the New Orleans coroner’s forensic work in the case “incomplete at best.”
In the news series, “Law & Disorder,” reporters at ProPublica, The Times-Picayune and PBS “Frontline” examined police conduct in the wake of Katrina. The series focused on three confrontations between police and civilians: the fatal shooting in Faubourg Marigny of McDonald, the 41-year-old drifter; the fatal shooting of an 45-year-old Danny Brumfield Sr. in front of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center; and the nonfatal shooting of Keenon McCann on an Interstate 10 overpass.
Sheila Thorne, a special agent in the FBI’s field office in New Orleans, confirmed that agents were “looking into the circumstances surrounding Matthew McDonald’s death.” She declined to discuss the other two shootings featured in the series.
Jim Gallagher, spokesman for the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said Thursday afternoon that he was unaware that the FBI probe had widened and that he was not in a position to comment.
The federal subpoenas are the latest development in the long-running investigation of the NOPD. For more than a year, agents have been examining two controversial post-Katrina episodes: the Danziger Bridge incident, during which officers killed two civilians and wounded four others; and the death of Henry Glover, who witnesses say died while in NOPD custody in Algiers. Federal investigators believe a police officer shot Glover, according to the officer’s lawyer and other sources close to the probe.
DA Declines to Charge
Out of all of the police shooting cases examined in the news series, the McDonald case was perhaps the most mysterious.
Exactly when the NOPD concluded its own investigation into the McDonald shooting is unknown, as are the department’s findings about the case. Police said in their initial report they could find no other witnesses to the incident.
The NOPD has repeatedly refused to provide reporters with the supplemental report by homicide detectives that determined whether or not the shooting was justified. City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields earlier this month stated in a letter that the report could not be released because the case is “the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” although she did not explain which agency was investigating.
The Orleans Parish district attorney’s files show the police documents on the case were turned over to the agency in May 2007, said Chris Bowman, communications director for the office. The DA’s public corruption unit, which at the time looked at every officer-involved shooting, reviewed the case and decided in September 2007 that criminal charges were not warranted, he said.
“It was refused because there was no evidence that was contrary to what the police said happened,” Bowman said.
According to the NOPD’s seven-page initial incident report, Lt. Bryant Wininger confronted McDonald on the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2005, because he was clutching a white plastic bag containing a handgun and a bottle.