Third officer expected to plead guilty in Katrina shooting
Analyst: Danziger 'blue wall of silence' about to crumble
NEW ORLEANS — A third New Orleans police officer charged in a cover-up of a deadly shooting by police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is expected to plead guilty, a person familiar with the case said Tuesday.
A filing Tuesday in U.S. District Court charges the officer, Michael Hunter, 33, of Slidell, with one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of misprision of a felony.
The charges are part of a deal under which Hunter has agreed to help in the investigation of a cover-up after police shot six people - killing two - at the Danziger Bridge in September 2005, according to the person familiar with the case, who was not authorized to discuss it and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hunter is scheduled to make his initial court appearance on April 7. He faces a possible maximum sentence of eight years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Townsend Myers, a lawyer for Hunter, wouldn't immediately comment.
Hunter remains on the force, but he is assigned to desk duty. Police spokesman Bob Young said Tuesday that Hunter was expected to resign before pleading guilty.
Michael Lohman, a retired lieutenant, and Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former detective, earlier pleaded guilty to participating in the cover-up.
"(Hunter's cooperation) tells me that the rest of the defendants must be coming around, and that it's going to be very difficult for them to win in court," said Davidson Ehle III, attorney for Lehrmann. "The fact that he was on the bridge that day and saw what happened is explosive."
Hunter drove at least four officers and two sergeants to the bridge in a rental truck, according to Tuesday's filing. On the east side of the bridge, officers opened fire after encountering six civilians walking across in search of food and supplies from a supermarket. One of those civilians, 19-year-old James Brissette, was killed. On the west side of the bridge, an officer shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Hunter helped investigators in "articulating false stories that would make it appear as if the civilians who were shot on the bridge had fired first at officers, and that the officers had been justified in shooting the civilians," the filing says.
Hunter also is accused of providing a false account of the shootings when he testified before a state grand jury in October 2006.
Before speaking to the grand jury, Hunter and other officers who opened fire on the bridge attended a meeting called by a police investigator.
"At the meeting, the investigator instructed the shooters to make sure they had their stories straight before they gave their formal statements on tape," the filing says.
The Justice Department's civil rights division opened an investigation after a state judge threw out murder and attempted murder charges against seven officers, including Hunter, in 2008.
Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, leading to the flooding of an estimated 80 percent of New Orleans after levees broke and the city plunged into chaos.
Looting was reported in some areas, including the downtown business district, and rescuers said they thought sporadic gunfire was directed at them.
Officers have acknowledged shooting at people on the bridge, but said they did so only after taking fire first. However, Lohman concluded that the shootings were legally unjustified when no weapons were recovered from the scene, according to court documents.
The case is among several involving New Orleans police in Katrina's aftermath that are being probed by the federal government. The others include the fatal shooting of Danny Brumfield Sr. outside the New Orleans convention center; the death of Henry Glover, whom witnesses claim died in police custody; and the fatal police shooting of a Connecticut man, Matthew McDonald.