By Jesse Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A second guilty plea in the Danziger Bridge case in New Orleans has revealed more information regarding an alleged corrupt plot by law enforcement in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to cover up a shooting that claimed the lives of two unarmed civilians.
Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former detective, pleaded guilty on March 11 to failing to report a felony in relation to the Sept. 4, 2005 encounter during which his fellow officers shot six civilians. Four other people were injured and all of the victims are Black.
Lehrmann resigned from the police department in 2006 and is working as a special agent at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. A federal court charged him with misprision of a felony, which meant he didn't report the conspiracy although he had knowledge of it. He is now on administrative leave from his job and faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison coupled with a $250,000 fine. His sentencing has been set for June 10.
“It's not surprising to find corruption here. There has been suspicion in the community for the last nearly five years that this was true,” said New Orleans resident Lawrence Martin to The Final Call.
Documents filed by federal prosecutors show Lehrmann willingly assisted in the Danziger Bridge cover up by producing false evidence to mischaracterize the victims. Lehrmann also admitted making up testimonies in the names of witnesses who never existed. Furthermore, he willingly was a part of the plot to plant a gun allegedly provided by his supervising officer at the time, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman.
“I believe there is more to be uncovered,” said Mr. Martin, who directs NOLA.TV, the city's first web-based news station.
In February, Lt. Michael Lohman confessed in federal court that he participated in the same conspiracy on the Danziger Bridge. Mr. Lohman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice with fellow officers.
In a press release from the U.S. Justice Dept., FBI Special Agent in Charge David Welker stated, “The FBI is uniquely tasked to investigate potential violations of the civil rights of the citizens of the United States. Today's guilty plea is a clear message that the intensity of the investigation is increasing. The FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office, and DOJ's Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively pursue the evidence wherever it leads.”
Mayor-elect in search of a police chief
In a recent interview with NOLA.TV, former U.S. Attorney and Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan said it is difficult for residents to trust the police department especially “in light of the recent guilty plea by Mr. Lohman.”
Jordan originally received the report from Mr. Lohman regarding the shooting back in 2005, which has now become a part of the present bill of information used to prosecute the ex-officer. “He (Lohman) lied in the report. The bottom line is that he was part of a conspiracy to deceive and thwart any investigation that took place on the Danziger Bridge. In my opinion this was one of the most serious and horrific murders in the city because it involved police officers,” said Jordan in the interview.
Despite backlash from police officials, Jordan took the case before a grand jury and it was concluded in 2006 that seven officers should be charged with first degree murder. In August 2008, Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Raymond Bigelow dropped the case but it was taken back up by the Justice Dept. a few weeks later.
“The police were very opposed to me investigating the matter. They thought that they had done nothing wrong. That's what they said publicly. And yet now we know based upon this cover up that they knew that they did wrong. They did not want the world to know what they had done,” said Jordan.
Jordan continued, “It is disturbing to see this but I also saw similar conduct in New Orleans back in the mid-90s when I was a U.S. attorney. So this is part of a pattern that's been going on for years—the efforts to deprive citizens of their civil rights by killing them.”
At a March 11 town hall meeting, New Orleans Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu fielded suggestions from residents about what he calls his most important decision: selecting a new police chief before his May 3 inauguration.
The mayor-elect hopes his 21-member task force of community leaders will be helpful in assisting the critical search for a qualified individual to head the department.
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