Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Former Officer Michael Lohman Preparing to Enter Guilty Plea

A former New Orleans police official is preparing to enter a guilty plea in connection with a federal probe of a deadly police shooting in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, two people familiar with the case said Tuesday.

Former police Lt. Michael Lohman is expected to enter the plea Wednesday in U.S. District Court, and he is cooperating with prosecutors, said the two people. They requested anonymity because the charge would not be announced before his court appearance.

It's unclear what charge he faces because the case hasn't been unsealed. Lohman wasn't one of the seven police officers charged in the shooting on the Danziger bridge several days after Katrina's landfall in August 2005. He helped oversee a department probe of the men's actions.

A lawyer for one of the original defendants said federal investigators have been looking into what they described as a "corrupt investigation" of the fatal shootings of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, and James Brissette, 19.

The Justice Department's civil rights division opened its investigation after a judge threw out state murder and attempted murder charges against the seven in 2008. So far, lawyers for two other officers have identified their clients as targets of the current probe.

Sgt. Robert Gisevius, who was charged in state court with first-degree murder and attempted murder, received a letter informing federal authorities were targeting him. His attorney, Eric Hessler, said the letter accused him of using excessive force and participating in a "corrupt investigation" of the shooting. Hessler defended his client's actions.

"By all accounts, he was involved in a situation where a reasonable person would be in fear for his life," he said.

Steve London, a lawyer for New Orleans police Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, said his client also received a letter informing him he is a target of a federal investigation. The letter doesn't specify why, but Kaufman worked on the department's investigation of the bridge shooting. Kaufman wasn't one of the seven who faced state charges.

London said his client denies any wrongdoing.

"My client is a 30-year police veteran with not one complaint, has received many awards and is considered an exemplary officer," he said.

Lohman, who retired earlier this month, helped supervise the department's investigation of the fatal shootings, said Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Donovan Livaccari.

Lohman's attorney, Dylan Utley, and U.S. Attorney Jim Letten wouldn't comment Tuesday.

Police superintendent Warren Riley said, "We hope that justice is served," declining to elaborate.

The case is among several involving New Orleans police in Katrina's aftermath that are being probed by the federal government. The others include the fatal shooting of Danny Brumfield Sr. outside the New Orleans convention center; the death of Henry Glover, whom witnesses claim died in police custody; and the fatal police shooting of a Connecticut man, Matthew McDonald.

Survivors of the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger bridge have said the officers fired at unarmed people who were crossing to get food at a grocery store. Madison and Brissette were shot and killed by police; four other people were wounded.

The officers acknowledged shooting at people on the bridge, but said they did so only after taking fire.

Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. In its aftermath, levees broke, flooding 80 percent of New Orleans. Chaos gripped the city, and looting was reported in some areas. Rescuers sometimes said they thought gunfire was directed at them.

Survivors of the bridge shooting said in civil suits that they were ambushed by the officers who jumped out of the back of a rental truck.

Daniel G. Abel, a lawyer for the Brissette family, said they are grateful for investigators' work on the case.

"This first conviction bolsters their hope that the individuals responsible for these and related crimes will be brought to justice," Abel said.

Gisevius, Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso II and former Officer Robert Faulcon Jr. each faced first-degree murder and attempted murder charges in the case. State district Judge Raymond Bigelow also threw out attempted first-degree murder charges against Officer Mike Hunter Jr. and Officer Robert Barrios and attempted second-degree murder charges against Officer Ignatius Hills.

Faulcon resigned from the police force; the other officers were assigned to desk duty after their indictment.

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