08/04/2006

La. grand jury to investigate post-Katrina bridge blockade

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS- The blockading of a Mississippi River bridge last year by armed police officers - who turned back Hurricane Katrina evacuees trying to flee New Orleans - will be brought before a grand jury, a judicial body appointed in the U.S. to decide whether to bring charges in important cases.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan did not say when the grand jury will be convened. He refused to reveal any details of the investigation but said in a prepared statement that he had received a report from the state attorney general's office.

Under American law, prosecutors present their case before the grand jury, which is made up of ordinary citizens appointed to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to bring charges.

Several hundred evacuees claimed that police from suburban Gretna blocked them as they tried to flee New Orleans for safety on Sept. 1.

Many of the evacuees, who had been stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water, said they were told to cross the bridge to be evacuated from the city. But Gretna police confronted them on the bridge and forced them to turn around.

Police later said they blocked the evacuees because there were no supplies or services for them on the other side of the river.

The case raised widespread allegations of racism and spurred two marches across the bridge by national civil rights organizations in the months after the hurricane.

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