The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana- Three New Orleans police officers pleaded not guilty Monday to battery charges based on a videotape showing two patrolmen repeatedly punching a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication and a third officer grabbing and shoving an Associated Press Television News producer who helped capture the confrontation on tape.
After a brief hearing, at which trial was set for January 11, the officers were released on bond. They quickly left in cars without commenting.
They were suspended without pay Sunday, police spokesman Marlon Defillo said. The police promised a criminal investigation.
"It's a troubling tape, no doubt about it," Defillo said. (Watch raw footage of the beating -- 1:26)
The confrontations come as the department -- long plagued by allegations of brutality and corruption -- struggles with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resignation last month of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass.
The APTN tape shows an officer hitting the suspect, Robert Davis, at least four times in the head Saturday night outside a French Quarter bar. Davis appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers.
Another of the officers then kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was face-down on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter. ( Watch video of what Davis looked like after the beating -- 2:27)
Then a fifth officer ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and the cameraman to stop recording. When Matthews held up his credentials, the officer grabbed the producer, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade.
"I've been here for six weeks trying to keep ... alive. ... Go home!" shouted the officer, who identified himself as S.M. Smith.
In addition to Smith, the other officers charged were identified as Lance Schilling and Robert Evangelist. Smith is an eight-year veteran of the force, while Evangelist and Schilling have served three years each.
"The incidents taped by our cameraman are extremely troubling," said Mike Silverman, AP's managing editor. "We are heartened that the police department is taking them seriously and promising a thorough investigation."
Police said Davis, of New Orleans, was booked on public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation. He was treated at a hospital and released into police custody.
A mug shot of Davis, provided by a jailer, showed him with his right eye swollen shut, an apparent abrasion on the left side of his neck and a cut on his right temple.
Davis, who is black, was subdued at the intersection of Conti and Bourbon streets. Three of the officers appeared to be white, and the other is light skinned. The officer who hit Matthews is white. Defillo said race was not an issue.
Two of the officers in the video appeared to be federal officers. Numerous agencies have sent police to help with patrols in the aftermath of Katrina, and Defillo said it would be up to their commanders to decide if they would face charges.
Under normal circumstances, it takes unusually offensive behavior to trigger an arrest on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans police have been working under stressful conditions since the hurricane. About 300 officers apparently either died, abandoned their posts or disappeared for some other reason.
Those who stayed slept in their cars and worked 24-hour shifts after the storm. Three-quarters lost their homes and their families are scattered across the country.
"Our police officers are working under some very trying times," Defillo said. "So it's a difficult time, but it doesn't excuse what our jobs are supposed to be."
Conditions have improved -- officers now have beds on a cruise ship -- but they don't have private rooms and are still working five, 12-hour days.
Compass, the police superintendent, resigned September 27. Despite more than 10 years of reform efforts dating to before he took office, police were dogged by allegations of brutality and corruption.
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On Friday, state authorities said they were investigating allegations that New Orleans police broke into a dealership and made off with nearly 200 cars -- including 41 new Cadillacs -- as the storm closed in.