Monday, March 07, 2011

More disturbing allegations against some officers involved in Danziger Bridge shooting

Five former New Orleans Police Department officers have pleaded guilty to crimes related to the shooting of innocent civilians at the Danziger Bridge post-Katrina and the police's cover-up of the incident. The details in the officers' confessions have been deeply disturbing, and six other current and former officers are awaiting trial for allegedly shooting innocent pedestrians, covering up what happened or both.

kenneth_bowen_handshake.jpgEllis Lucia, The Times-PicayuneFederal prosecutors said New Orleans Police Department Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, photographed shaking hands with a supporter in 2006, shot an innocent civilian in 2001.

Now federal prosecutors say two of those Danziger Bridge defendants, Sgts. Kenneth Bowen and Gerard Dugue, orchestrated a similar cover-up after Sgt. Bowen shot and killed a man in Gert Town in 2001.

Several details in that decade-old case are similar to the police's actions after the Danziger shooting -- and prosecutors need to aggressively go after anyone who may have broken the law in the Gert Town shooting.

The new allegations, included in court documents unsealed Thursday, pertain to Sgt. Bowen's shooting of 28-year-old Sylvester Scott. Sgt. Bowen has maintained that he shot Mr. Scott in the back during a struggle, as Mr. Scott constantly tried to reach for the officer's gun.

But prosecutors said they have evidence to the contrary and are raising valid questions about the police's original investigation of the shooting.

The government said a forensic expert is prepared to testify that the condition of the bullet recovered from the scene shows Mr. Scott must have been shot point blank while lying face-down on the ground. Prosecutors said the pathologist in Mr. Scott's autopsy for the Orleans Parish coroner's office also found evidence of this kind of shooting in his wounds.

But prosecutors said Sgt. Dugue left that pathologist's conclusion out of his report about Mr. Scott's shooting. Instead, the government said, Sgt. Dugue wrote that the coroner's chief investigator, John Gagliano, had said the pathologist supported the police's version of the shooting -- an assertion Mr. Gagliano denied in a recent affidavit.

Just as in the Danziger Bridge case, the government is also suggesting police planted evidence in Mr. Scott's shooting. Prosecutors said that a crime technician at Mr. Scott's scene recovered a gun and a bag of marijuana from underneath a nearby house, but the technician said those were very clean considering that the crawl space was filthy. Prosecutors also said Sgt. Dugue didn't order fingerprint analysis of the gun until after a ballistics expert had handled the weapon, seemingly tainting the evidence. The government said all this points to a police cover-up.

Still, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Engelhardt ruled prosecutors cannot bring up Sylvester Scott during Sgt. Bowen's Danziger Bridge trial in June. Sgt. Bowen's defense attorney, Frank DeSalvo, said the judge made the "right decision." Sgt. Dugue's attorney, Claude Kelly, called the government's filing "shameful."

In 2002, Sgt. Bowen faced state charges that he murdered Mr. Scott. But state prosecutors later dropped the charges.

Federal prosecutors, however, clearly suspect that Sgt. Bowen's shooting of Mr. Scott's was not justified. They need to get to the bottom of that case -- just as they have been doing in the Danziger Bridge shooting.

Original report here

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