A former lieutenant of the New Orleans Police Department, who is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, has entered a guilty plea. He is alleged of having helped cover up fellow officers’ fatal shootings of two unarmed people during the chaotic period following Hurricane Katrina.
Michael Lohman, 42, was not initially present at the scene of the shootings, which took place on the Danziger Bridge and which injured four people in addition to the two who were killed. However, Lohman later went to the scene and concluded that the shooting was unjustified, but nevertheless file false police reports. Additionally, as the officer in charge of investigating the shooting, he allegedly looked the other way when another investigator planted a gun at the scene of the crime, asking only if the weapon in question was “clean” — police parlance for a gun that cannot be traced back to a prior crime.
According to survivors of the September 4, 2005 incident, the police fired at people who were crossing the bridge in search of food, during the aftermath of the infamous hurricane which threw the city into turmoil. None of those people were armed.
Killed by police gunfire were a 40-year-old mentally disable man, Ronald Madison, and a teenager, 19-year-old James Brissette.
A recently unsealed indictment says that Lohman and two sergeants, who remain unidentified, wrote two different accounts of the bridge shootings, both false reports. One of claims made was that a victim had come forward to say that her nephew was among those firing guns at police. Federal officials contend that Lohman, unhappy with a false report written by a fellow investigator, then crafted his own false report. He also allegedly told the investigator to collude with the shooters, to make sure that they were “OK with” the bogus report and with giving statements that would back it up.
Seven officers had been charged with murder or attempted murder in the shooting, but a state judge dismissed those charges in 2008, making Lohman the first person to face justice. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 26.
In the days following Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that resulted, there were numerous reports of violence against police and rescue personnel, many of which were later proven untrue. The shootings on the bridge were one of the most highly publicized events, and this notoriety may account for the subsequent cover-up, which U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has called “a pretty elaborate ongoing conspiracy.”