Special to the NNPA from the Louisiana Weekly –
(NNPA) - A fourth former New Orleans police officer has pleaded guilty to helping cover up deadly police shootings of unarmed residents after Hurricane Katrina. Robert Barrios faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Police shot and killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the August 2005 storm. The 29-year-old Barrios was accused of conspiring with other officers to give false accounts of the shootings to detectives.
Three former officers already have pleaded guilty to a cover-up that included a planted gun and phony witnesses.
Marion David Ryder, a civilian, also pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the shootings. Ryder, 45, of Opelousas faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and $500,000 fine after pleading guilty Wednesday to making false statements and a federal firearms charge.
His sentencing is set for August 4.
As prosecutors secured a guilty plea from Barrios Wednesday, a second member of the Danziger 7, the attorney for a third Danziger officer told a local news station that he has had extensive plea negotiations with federal authorities on behalf of this client, NOPD officer Ignatius Hills.
In addition to the officers involved in the shooting itself, two former NOPD lieutenants - Michael Lohman and Jeffrey Lehrmann " previously confessed to the participating in the cover-up, agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for their cooperation against their fellow officers.
Attorney Robert Jenkins said he has had hours of discussions with federal prosecutors about his client's role in the case.
"We're not there yet," Jenkins told WWL-TV, declining to provide details about the negotiations.
Jenkins took on the case after Hills fired his previous attorney, Bruce Whittaker. Plea negotiations began almost immediately afterward, Jenkins told WWL-TV.
"From the pattern you've seen, the government is focusing on individuals who obstructed justice - that is covered up what happened. They're moving in closer and closer to the shooters," former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg told FOX8 News.
In other NOPD-related news, a former high-ranking New Orleans police officer and two top officers from other law enforcement agencies have made the short list to replace NOPD Superintendent Warren Riley.
A search committee appointed by Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu narrowed the list of candidates to three men: Ronald Davis, police chief of East Palo Alto, Calif.; John Harrington, who is retiring as chief of police in St. Paul, Minn.; and Ronald Serpas, the former New Orleans officer who now heads the Nashville Police Department.
Members of the search committee quizzed six semifinalists over several hours April 27. The committee then whittled the list to three and recommended them to Landrieu, who takes office Monday.
Landrieu interviewed the finalists and will name the next superintendent, though he has said if he's unsatisfied, he'll reopen the search.
Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu hit a sour note last week when he used a back door to avoid media questions about his selection for police chief.
Landrieu, whose selection of a new police chief may be the most important decision he makes as mayor, reportedly left a Wednesday afternoon press conference and sped away before reporters could ask him anything about his decision regarding the city's next police chief.
"You don't get anywhere by snubbing the media. At the very least go up to the camera and say, 'I'm sorry. I can't talk about this right now,'" Tulane University political science professor Thomas Langston told FOX8 News.
Landrieu has already been hampered by several defections from his NOPD superintendent search committee and a rising wave of criticism from Black community leaders about the inclusion of former NOPD Deputy Superintendent Ronald Serpas as one the final three contenders for the post.
The other two finalists are East Palo Alto Police chief Ron Davis and St. Paul, Minnesota police chief John Harrington, who is scheduled to retire in June.
Langston said that the Mayor-elect's quick exit Wednesday will do nothing to quell those concerns and that Landrieu could use a little help to understand that avoiding difficult topics and questions is not an option for a mayor seeking to turn around a city that is already desperate for capable, accountable leadership.
"Controlling the message does not mean not talking to the media," Langston told FOX8 News. "Controlling the message, which all good executives try to do, means deciding with your close advisors what the message of the day, of the week is gonna be and then communicating, communicating, communicating."
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