Convicted Katrina Cover-up Cop Faces Uphill Climb In Leak Protest

A New Orleans policeman seeking a new trial on charges of covering up post-Hurricane Katrina police killings confronts tough legal obstacles. That was my response May 21 to New Orleans radio host Tommy Tucker on my return to his show as a commentator on the federal prosecutions now prominent there in news coverage.

Former New Orleans Sgt. Arthur Kaufman faces a six-year term imposed for minimizing guilt of fellow officers in deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina. On Friday, May 18, he filed papers seeking a new trial or investigative hearing because authorities illegally leaked news in 2010 that his boss was expected to plead guilty to cover-up-charges. Kaufman claims the leak foreclosed an unbiased jury on his later trial on cover-up charges. Juries ruled he was involved in a police conspiracy to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and file false reports to make the shootings appear justified. 
Jim LettenTucker is host of the morning show on the 50,000-watt WWL broadcast to five Gulf states. He started his show today by saying that Kaufman's protest was "big news" in the region. He has focused recently on defendants’ claims of over-zealous federal prosecutors under U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, left. My role has been to comment as a legal reform advocate.

Regrettably, many unfair or even illegal tactics such as leaks don't have a realistic remedy, I responded. In this case, the public wanted to know what federal authorities were going to do about police shootings of Katrina refugees seeking to flee via
the city’s Danziger Bridge. This was during the life-threatening chaos following the 2005 hurricane and levee collapse.

Trying to limit news leaks in that situation, I said, is like “trying to command rising waters on the river to stop.” Also, if the trial judge thought the news leaks foreclosed a fair trial he could have taken more preventive measures, including transferring the case to a different region. The interview is
here.

As further context, I noted that the U.S. Justice Department issued a 158-page investigative report in March 2011 finding massive, long-standing civil rights abuses in the police department.  “Basic elements of effective policing – clear policies, training, accountability and confidence of the citizen – have been absent for years,” concluded the report, which the city’s mayor and other regional authorities invited.

Tommy TuckerThe DOJ’s civil rights report deliberately excluded the Danziger Bridge and other specific criminal proceedings, and instead focusing on long-term problems and recommended solutions. The specifics portray appalling situations. Among them were arrest rates for blacks sixteen times higher than for whites. Among the vast number of other statistics, trends and incidents was a situation whereby police ignored a woman’s repeated pleas for help from assault because the department had no one available who could understand Spanish. The DOJ  report, available here, documented also oppressive conditions for police officers, including lack of training and clear guidelines on promotion opportunities.

Details on the relevant cases are listed below. For those interested in the specific problem of police cover-ups, there’s no better introduction than the 1973 true-life movie Serpico. It is based on based on the non-fiction book by Peter Maas chronicling the heroic story of New York City policeman Frank Serpico. He went undercover at the risk of his life to expose the corruption of fellow officers after they intimidated him because he would not participate.

In the New Orleans police shootings on Danziger Bridge, U.S. District Judge Kurt Englhardt has imposed sentences that include terms of between 38 and 65 years for four former police officers implicated in the shootings of six fleeing victims, two of whom died. While imposing such long terms, the 2001 nominee of President Bush spent much of his sentencing hearing for the four describing his discomfort with the prosecution's case.

Albeit successful in winning the convictions, the prosecution heavily relied on the usual practice nationally of plea deals. Those testifying for the prosecution after such deals included Kaufman's boss, Lt. Michael Lohman, who received a four-year term despite being, in the judge's view, the architect of the cover-up.

"The buck started and stopped with him," the judge said of Lohman.  "Using liars to convict liars," the judge continued, "is no way to pursue justice."

 

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
 

 

Related News Coverage

Associated Press / Huffington Post, Newhouse Newspapers In Alabama Cut Publication To Three Days A Week, May 24, 2012. Three major Alabama daily newspapers will switch to publishing three days a week as part of a new focus on online news, in line with their new Orleans sister publication, The Times-Picayune. The three papers in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville and The Times-Picayune announced the new strategy Thursday. All four are owned by the Newhouse family group. Both announcements said there will be unspecified staff reductions. The changes will take place in the fall. The Alabama papers said the changes will allow them to expand news-gathering efforts in an increasingly digital age. The newspapers will be home-delivered and sold in stores on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

WDSU (New Orleans), Danziger cop Kaufman cites media leaks in bid for new trial, Staff report, May 19, 2012.  A former New Orleans police officer convicted of orchestrating a cover-up of deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina claims federal authorities waged a "secret public relations campaign" that deprived him of a fair trial. In a court filing Friday, lawyers for retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman asked U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt to order a new trial or hold a hearing "to determine the extent of the government's misconduct."  Engelhardt didn't immediately rule. A Justice Department spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Kaufman's allegations.

NOLA.com / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4 former officers convicted in Danziger case ask for new trial, saying prosecutors hid evidence, Brendan McCarthy, May 14, 2012.  Attorneys for four former New Orleans police officers convicted recently in the Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up are asking for a new trial, alleging that federal prosecutors hid evidence and relied on false testimony in the high-stakes case. The motion makes two main claims: that federal prosecutors only recently turned over key videotaped evidence, and that the government knowingly used witness testimony that the video proved was false. The motion, filed Friday by the attorney for convicted Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, was later adopted by attorneys for Anthony Villavaso, Robert Faulcon and Robert Gisevius. The court filing states that a video shot by a CBS News affiliate in Miami on the Danziger Bridge walkway shows no bullet casings. The video was shot on the day of the shooting, some time before James Brissette's body was removed from the scene. Former officer Jeffrey Lehrmann testified at trial that Bowen kicked casings off the walkway weeks after the shooting as part of an effort to cover up what happened on the bridge. But Bowen couldn't have kicked the casings if they weren't there, according to Bowen's attorney, Robin Schulberg, a federal public defender.

ProPublica / Public Broadcasting System Frontline, Stiff Sentences for NOPD Officers Convicted in Post-Katrina Shootings, Sarah Moughty, April 4, 2012. Four former New Orleans police officers were sentenced to more than 30 years in prison today for their role in the post-Katrina police shootings on the Danziger Bridge that killed two and injured four unarmed civilians. Robert Faulcon, Jr., Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Jr., and Anthony Villavaso — each convicted of charges related to the shootings and the ensuing five-year cover-up — received prison terms of between 38 and 65 years.

NOLA.com / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 'Mencken1951' unmasked: It is federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, Staff report, March 15, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten confirmed this afternoon that Sal Perricone, one of his top prosecutors, has been using the handle "Henry L. Mencken1951" to bash landfill owner Fred Heebe and a raft of other local and national figures, including federal judges, in the comments section on NOLA.com. Perricone "'readily admitted" using the pseudonym, and the matter has been referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, Letten said.

ProPublica / Public Broadcasting System Frontline, DOJ finds "Systemic Violations of Civil Rights" by New Orleans Police,  A.C. Thompson, March 17, 2011. The U.S. Department of Justice released a 158-page report today on the New Orleans Police Department, identifying a host of deep systemic problems, including a pattern of discriminatory policing, the routine use of "unnecessary and unreasonable" force, and a chronic failure to discipline officers involved in misconduct. The NOPD "has been largely indifferent to widespread violations of law and policy by its officers," states the report, which was compiled by the Justice Department's Civil Rights section. The report also suggests that NOPD officials may have sought to cover up evidence in incidents in which police shot civilians. "NOPD's mishandling of officer-involved shooting investigations was so blatant and egregious that it appeared intentional in some respects," the report says.  As ProPublica and Frontline's documentary reported federal prosecutors have built a string of criminal cases against 20 current or former officers over the last three years. In December, one former cop and two members of the force were convicted in connection with the murder of a man and incineration of his body in the days after Hurricane Katrina.


Catching Our Attention on other Justice & Integrity Issues

Salon, WH leaks for propaganda film, Glenn Greenwald, May 23, 2012. The administration takes a break from its war on whistleblowers to provide classified information to Hollywood.
As is now well documented, the Obama administration has waged an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, prosecuting more of them under espionage statutes than all prior administrations combined: twice as many as all prior administrations combined, in fact. They are attempting, or have attempted, to imprison whistleblowers who exposed corrupt and illegal NSA eavesdropping, dangerously inept efforts to impede Iran’s nuclear program (which likely strengthened it), the destructive uses of torture, and a litany of previously unknown U.S.-caused civilian deaths and other American war crimes.  But there’s one type of leak of classified information that the White House not only approves of but itself routinely exploits: the type that glorifies the President for propagandistic ends.
 
Legal Schnauzer, Court File Is Sealed In The Wake Of Press Reports About The Mark Fuller Divorce Case, Roger Shuler, May 22, 2012.  The court file in the divorce case of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller has been sealed, multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer. It's not clear when the case was sealed, but it appears to have happened since news reports broke last Thursday, outlining allegations of extramarital affairs, drug abuse, domestic abuse, and other misconduct against Fuller. The judge is best known for his role in presiding over the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in 2006. Fuller filed a motion to seal on April 20, citing security concerns related to his status as a federal judge. Attorneys for his wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, filed an objection on April 25, arguing that certain sensitive information  (financial matters, addresses, etc.) could be redacted but that the overall file should not be sealed. (See the Motion to Seal and Objection to Complete Sealing of File at the end of this post.)  Potential embarrassment for one of the parties, via press coverage, almost never presents valid grounds for sealing a divorce case. Is Mark Fuller being protected in a way that a regular citizen would not be? It sure looks that way.
 

Washington Post, An end to abuse in prison? The Justice Department finally issues rules to address prison rape, Editorial Board, May 20, 2012. Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in 2003 with support so bipartisan that ideological opposites such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) co-sponsored it. In accordance with the law, a commission spent six years investigating and formulating recommendations for new rules. Then the Justice Department slow-walked the rule-writing, repeating much of the commission’s labor. When the department finally proposed draft rules, they were too weak.

Associated Press / Huffington Post, Criminal Exonerations: 2,000 Convicted Then Exonerated In U.S. Over Last 23 Years, Says Study, Pete Yost, May 21, 2012.  More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities. There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled. The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

Anniston Star, Liberty at stake: Supreme Court has opportunity to properly handle Siegelman’s case, Editorial Board, May 21, 2012. When prosecutors look at former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman they must see a version of Pig-Pen, the Peanuts comics figure constantly obscured by a cloud of dust. Look at that dirty mess, we can hear prosecutors exclaiming. There must be something illegal going on. Of course, our legal system depends on more than appearances. Looking guilty is not the same thing as actual guilt. Yet, the prosecution of Siegelman on federal corruption charges amounts to little more than singling out the former governor of Alabama for something commonplace in modern politics. We hope the Supreme Court will take a hard look at the case, and clear up what looks like a case of selective prosecution.

Don SiegelmanBirmingham News, Al.com, Former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman tries boxing as 'The Punching Politician,' Jon Solomon, May 21, 2012.  Former Gov. Don Siegelman has fought his share of political and legal battles. So what's absorbing a left-handed blow to the head in the boxing ring? "I think he loosened my right eye socket," Siegelman said Saturday night after an exhibition boxing match against his karate sparring partner, Jerry Schnader. The three-round bout was part of a fundraiser for the Levite Jewish Community Center, American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. For the 66-year-old Siegelman, the event provided a way to lend his name toward good causes. But such physical activity is also a way of life for him, mostly through karate until he took up boxing. "One time I told him to knock me out 100 pushups, and that was nothing to him," said Martin Juarez, Siegelman's trainer from Juarez Boxing who runs a boxing boot camp for men and women at the LJCC. "He told me, 'I would  do 1,200 a day (while incarcerated).' I asked why. He said, 'What else am I going to do?'"

Legal Schnauzer, Drug Addiction Might Be The Central Issue In Divorce Case Against Siegelman Judge, Roger Shuler, May 21, 2012. The divorce complaint filed against U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller raises a number of troubling issues. But possible drug addiction might be No. 1 on the list. Lisa Boyd Fuller's complaint includes no shortage of titillating issues, including extramarital affairs and domestic abuse. But those go primarily to Mark Fuller's character outside the courtroom. Drug addiction, however, goes to Fuller's fitness to serve on the federal bench. It also raises these troubling questions: Has Fuller's mind been clouded by illicit drug use while serving as a judge? Have civil cases been unlawfully decided because the judge was more or less high? Have some citizens, including former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, been wrongfully sent to federal prison in part because Mark Fuller was on uppers, downers, painkillers, mind numbers--or some combination of them all. [Mark Fuller Divorce -- Subpoena List Re: Drugs.]

One fundamental of the American justice system is that a citizen has a right to have his case heard by a judge who does not present even the "appearance of impropriety." A citizen certainly has a right to have his case heard by a judge who isn't impaired. Lisa Boyd Fuller's complaint presents a truckload of apparent impropriety, plus signs that Mark Fuller might qualify as the Keith Richards of the federal bench. Floyd Minor, Mrs. Fuller's attorney, has filed documents indicating that he intends to subpoena at least six drug stores in the Montgomery area for information about Mark Fuller and prescription drugs. (See Notice of Intent to Serve Subpoenas and Subpoenas at the end of this post.)  If Mark Fuller has been getting prescription drugs from six different pharmacies, what does that mean? My impression is that most Americans, for the sake of convenience, have their prescriptions filled at one or two drug stores. Has Mark Fuller been getting prescriptions filled far and wide for a reason?

Huffington Post, North Carolina Pastor Charles L. Worley Suggests Gays And Lesbians Should Be Put In Electrified Pen, Slowly Killed Off, Video, May 21, 2012.  The barrage of anti-gay sermons delivered by North Carolina-based pastors to hit the blogosphere continues with yet another disturbing rant caught on tape. The pastor, identified on YouTube as Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., condemns President Obama's much-publicized endorsement of same-sex marriage while calling for gays and lesbians to be put in an electrified pen and ultimately killed off.  "Build a great, big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there," Worley suggests in the clip, reportedly filmed on May 13. He continues: "Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out...and you know what, in a few years, they'll die out...do you know why? They can't reproduce!"