NEW ORLEANS — In Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath, police shot six people – killing two – as they crossed a bridge in search of food. For years the case was a shocking symbol of the confusion and violence that swept through the flooded city. On Wednesday it became a mark of shame for the police department.
As victims’ relatives watched from the courtroom gallery, a retired lieutenant who supervised the department’s probe of the shootings pleaded guilty to orchestrating a cover-up to conceal that police gunned down unarmed civilians.
Michael Lohman, a 21-year veteran of the force, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors said Lohman and other unidentified officers conspired to fabricate witness statements, falsify reports of the incident and plant a gun in an attempt to make it appear the killings were justified.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the investigation is continuing and would not say whether higher-ranking officials of the police department might be involved.
Lohman’s plea brought at least some closure to families of victims in the best-known of several violent incidents that raised questions about police conduct immediately after Katrina. The shootings happened on Sept. 4, 2005, six days after the storm smashed levees and flooded 80 percent of the city.
Survivors have said the officers fired at unarmed people who were crossing to get food at a grocery store. The officers claimed they opened fire only after being shot at. Ronald Madison, 40 and mentally disabled, and James Brissette, 19, were killed and four others were wounded.
“We are very, very happy about the progress that the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department have made,” said Romell Madison, Ronald’s brother. “The people of New Orleans should be relieved that there is still justice for everybody here.”