In Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath, police shot six people — killing two — as they crossed a bridge. 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.
Michael Lohman, a retired lieutenant who supervised the department’s probe of the shootings, pled guilty to organizing a cover-up to conceal that police gunned down unarmed civilians.
Lohman pled guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors said Lohman and other officers conspired to fabricate witness statements, falsify reports of the incident and plant a gun to make it appear the killings were justified.
The shootings happened Sept. 4, 2005, six days after the storm flooded 80 percent of the city, and were the best-known of several violent incidents that raised questions about police conduct immediately after Katrina.
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 James Brissette, 19, were killed and four others wounded.
Lohman’s plea marked the first conviction in the case. Seven officers were charged with murder or attempted murder but a state judge threw out all charges. Federal authorities stepped in to investigate. Federal prosecutor said Lohman is cooperating with investigators.
Lohman, 42, is free on $50,000 bond and faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The department’s reputation was hammered with charges that officers were involved with shootings, looted shops and stole cars from a car dealership after Katrina.
Federal prosecutors will probe the fatal police shootings of Danny Brumfield Sr. and Matthew McDonald and the death of Henry Glover, whom witnesses claim died in police custody.
Police have pointed to the extreme conditions after Katrina. Communications failed, hundreds of police vehicles were destroyed, 80 percent of the force lost their homes to the storm and there were reports of rescuers being fired upon.