03/27/2006

New Orleans grand jury to hear evidence in taped police beating

By MARY FOSTER
Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- A state grand jury in New Orleans on Wednesday will consider the case of police officers involved in an Oct. 8 beating, which was captured on videotape by a news crew covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Officers Robert Evangelist and Lance Schilling were fired for their roles in the beating of 64-year-old Robert Davis. Officer Stuart Smith was suspended for 120 days.

"We will present evidence to the grand jury and they will then make a decision to charge the officers involved or not," assistant district attorney Dustin Davis (no relation to the plaintiff) said Monday. "If they decide the officers were involved in some sort of felonious activity they will charge them."

He said Robert Davis and some New Orleans police officers will testify before the grand jury. He refused to identify the officers he expects to testify.

Davis, a retired elementary school teacher who returned to the storm-struck city to check on his properties, said he was searching for a place to buy cigarettes in the French Quarter when police grabbed him.

An Associated Press Television News tape of the incident shows an officer hitting Davis at least four times on the head. Davis appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers.

One of the officers kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was face-down on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter.

Smith 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.

Davis later pleaded not guilty to charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation.

"I'm assuming the district attorney will take it and at that time the charges against my client will be dropped," said Davis' lawyer Joe Bruno.

The event was investigated by the police department's internal affairs division before the officers were fired or suspended.

A federal civil rights investigation also was launched.

The three officers currently face municipal charges. Evangelist and Schilling were accused of battery against Davis. Smith was accused of battery against a reporter.

The video also shows two FBI agents, in town to help with post-Katrina patrols, joining the New Orleans police in subduing Davis. Their role in the incident is being investigated by federal officials.

Related story: 2 New Orleans cops fired, one suspended after post-Katrina beating

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