Federal authorities are investigating whether New Orleans police, during the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina, were involved in the shooting of a man whose charred remains were later discovered in a burned car on the Algiers levee, according to sources close to the investigation.
For at least a month, a federal grand jury has been hearing testimony from police officers about both the shooting and how the body ended up burned in a car, according to the sources.
The car's owner has asserted he last saw it in the possession of New Orleans Police Department officers who took it from him, even as a 31-year-old man lay wounded or dead from at least one gunshot wound in the back seat.
The burned remains of the man, Henry Glover, were later identified by the Orleans Parish coroner's office. Coroner Frank Minyard has said his office's files show that the bones and clumps of flesh that remained of Glover -- and preserved in five biohazard bags, after collection by soldiers -- were pulled out of a car on the Algiers levee near the 4th District police station.
The federal probe, initially by the FBI and now by grand jurors, appears to focus on different groups of officers, one set possibly involved in the shooting, the other in the torching of the vehicle, according to sources.
The FBI in March confirmed the agency was looking into how Glover's body was burned in a Chevrolet Malibu, examining whether police committed a civil rights violation against the dead man. But Sheila Thorne, a spokeswoman for the FBI's New Orleans office, this week declined to comment about whether the investigation also is looking at possible police involvement in Glover's shooting.
"We are looking at the total circumstances surrounding his death -- how he got there, what happened before, " Thorne said.
A Police Department spokesman declined to comment because of the ongoing investigation. The NOPD's homicide division also has been investigating Glover's death.
The investigation of police actions in connection with Glover's death is not the only federal probe into alleged violence by New Orleans police in the days after Katrina, when the city was largely emptied of people and police were on edge about looting and unprovoked gunfire. The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division in the fall took over an investigation into the shooting of civilians by police on the Danziger Bridge at the Industrial Canal, after a state case against the officers fell apart.
The Danziger Bridge shooting, which left two men dead and four people wounded on Sept. 4, 2005, led to a state grand jury indictment of seven police officers, on murder and attempted murder charges, in late 2006. The charges were dismissed in the fall by a state judge, who concluded that prosecutor errors during the grand jury process tainted the case.
While the shooting victims at the Danziger have said they were unarmed and ambushed by police, the officers have maintained they fired their guns only after first taking fire.
Helping a stranger
The story of Glover's death and burned remains was first reported in The Nation magazine and ProPublica.org at the end of 2008.
After the story's publication, William Tanner, owner of the Chevrolet Malibu, told New Orleans police and the FBI about how his attempts to help an injured stranger amid the confusion after Katrina went awry.
Tanner, 41, was an Algiers resident who decided to ride out the storm in his home while his wife and family sought refuge outside the city. Immediately after Katrina, he spent his days roaming the neighborhood.
On Sept. 2, 2005, Tanner said he stopped to talk to a woman on Seine Drive, near Texas Drive, about where he could find gasoline for his car. After their conversation, he got into his car to drive away, but was stopped by a man in the middle of the street, Tanner said.
That man told Tanner his brother, Glover, had been shot and needed assistance. Tanner and the man put Glover into the back of Tanner's car, joined by another friend.
In interviews this year, Tanner said Glover's family could not identify who shot him. Sources close to the investigation said the grand jury is interviewing police officers about reports that a police officer or officers may have been involved.
The group decided Glover needed medical attention fast, but Tanner determined that driving to the West Jefferson Medical Center, several miles away in Marrero, was not a good idea.
So the group raced to a nearby elementary school where the NOPD's Special Operations Division had established its base, dubbed Camp Victory.
At Paul B. Habans Elementary, however, police did not rush to Glover's aid, Tanner said. Tanner said they ignored the injured man in the car's back seat and handcuffed Tanner and his two companions. He said the officers, dressed in the tactical uniforms of the Special Operations Division, beat him and the other men.
Tanner said the officers seemed to think the three men were looters.
Eventually, an officer took the keys to the Chevrolet Malibu from Tanner, he said.
The officer, who Tanner described as having two flares sticking out of his cargo pants, drove off in the car with the wounded or dead man still in the back seat. Tanner was eventually allowed to leave the school and walked home. He left town shortly thereafter, but returned after a few weeks away.
He later learned the location of his vehicle from an agent with the Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency. When he went to the levee to look at his car, Tanner saw it was burned and no longer functional. The car remained on the levee through early February, but a neighbor in March said it was towed away by an NOPD truck
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