VIA: New Orleans Times-Picayune
Admitting a massive cover-up, a former New Orleans police supervisor pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction charge on Wednesday, confessing that he participated in a conspiracy to justify the shooting of six unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina that was hatched not long after police stopped firing their weapons.
The guilty plea of Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department earlier this month, contains explosive details of the alleged cover-up and ramps up the legal pressure on police officers involved in the shooting and subsequent investigation.
Lohman, who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to obstruct justice, admits he failed to order the collection of evidence or canvassing of witnesses, helped craft police reports riddled with false information, participated in a plan to plant a gun under the bridge and lied to investigators who questioned police actions.
A spokeswoman for New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin did not respond to a request for comment.
In a news conference after Lohman’s plea, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said police must be held to the law.
“Police officers are there to protect us, and to protect the most vulnerable among us,” he said. “Their jobs are to help individuals and protect us, not to hurt us. Sadly, sadly, we come across in the course of our work here…officers who violate their oaths of office, who occasionally violate their duties, violate their commitment to serve the public. And we take actions against those individuals wherever they violate federal law. We will continue to do that.”
In the wake of the startling developments, defense attorneys for some of the six police officers and one former officer involved in the shooting maintained their clients’ innocence.
All seven men were indicted by a state grand jury in December 2006 on murder and attempted-murder charges, but that case collapsed in court in the summer of 2008. Six weeks later, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division agreed to take over the case.
James Brissette, 19, was killed on the eastern side of the bridge, while four people walking with him with were seriously wounded. Susan Bartholomew lost part of her arm in the shooting and her husband, Leonard Bartholomew III, was shot in the head. Their daughter, Leisha Bartholomew and a nephew, Jose Holmes, suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Leonard Bartholomew IV, a teenage son, was uninjured.
After the shooting, police arrested Lance Madison, a longtime FedEx employee who had been taking care of his brother after the storm. Madison was accused of shooting at officers and booked with attempted murder. That was a “false arrest,” according to the bill of information, the charging document that lays out the laws Lohman allegedly broke.
The cover-up of what Lohman immediately judged an unjustified shooting began just after supervisors arrived, according to the bill. While police attorneys and police reports have asserted that officers were fired upon by the victims before shooting their weapons, the bill maintains that the victims were unarmed.
The other officers involved in the shooting were Michael Hunter, Ignatius Hills, Robert Barrios and Anthony Villavaso.
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