A recently retired New Orleans police supervisor is expected to plead guilty to a federal charge today stemming from a wide-ranging federal probe into the shooting of six people on the Danziger Bridge days after Hurricane Katrina.
Lt. Michael Lohman, a 21-year veteran who was involved in the investigation of the shootings but not the incident itself, will be charged in a bill of information, a source close to the probe said. Such a charge usually signals that a defendant is cooperating with the government and thus would represent a major break in the case for federal prosecutors.
The Associated Press, citing two sources familiar with the case, has reported that Lohman is indeed working with authorities. It's unclear precisely what crime Lohman will plead guilty to. Defendants who agree to cooperate with authorities are often allowed to plead to a reduced charge in exchange for their testimony.
Federal investigators began looking into the Danziger incident in the fall of 2008 after a state case against seven New Orleans Police Department officers cratered in court. While Orleans Parish prosecutors had focused solely on the officers who shot six people -- two of them fatally -- on the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, the federal probe has been wider in scope, also targeting officers who investigated the incident, according to sources close to the investigation.
Lohman, who oversaw part of the follow-up investigation but was not involved in the shootings themselves, declined to comment Tuesday night. His attorney did not return phone calls.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten also declined to comment.
Attorneys for all of the officers involved in the incident have steadfastly maintained their clients' innocence, saying the officers fired their weapons only after being fired upon first.
But at least one of the officers has gotten a letter indicating he is a target of the federal case. Sgt. Robert Gisevius, who had been charged in state court with first-degree murder, received a target letter, his attorney, Eric Hessler, acknowledged last week. Hessler said the letter accused Gisevius of using excessive force and participating in a "corrupt investigation" of the shooting.
Hessler has defended his client's actions, saying, "By all accounts, he was involved in a situation where a reasonable person would be in fear for his life."
An attorney for Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, one of the veteran homicide detective who investigated the case, has also received a target letter indicating he is a target of the probe. However, Steve London, the attorney, said he does not know what federal prosecutors believe Kaufman's crime was, adding that the sergeant is an exemplary investigator.
Kaufman was a detective in the 7th District investigative unit commanded by Lohman before and during the storm. He wrote the initial incident report about the Danziger Bridge shooting and helped conduct the follow-up inquiry.
After Katrina, NOPD officials moved all of the homicide detectives into a centralized unit. Kaufman collaborated with Sgt. Gerard Dugue on the supplemental report, which determined that the shooting was justified. Dugue's attorney declined to comment last week on whether his client had also received a target letter.
Last summer, the FBI raided the homicide unit's offices, seizing files and hard drives from both Kaufman and Dugue's computers. Searches of those hard drives have proved fruitful for federal investigators, sources close to the matter have said.
Lohman was one of dozens of law enforcement officers who went to the scene after the shooting, a fact noted in the supplemental police report, although the document does not explain his role after he arrived.
During the storm, Lohman was the second-in-command of the 7th District, which had relocated to the Crystal Palace banquet hall on Chef Menteur Highway after the unit's headquarters flooded. Along with his commander, then-Capt. Robert Bardy, he moved to the Central City-based 6th District after Katrina.
A police spokesman said Tuesday that Lohman had retired from the department on Feb. 1. "Whatever happens now is in the hands of the U.S. attorney's office," spokesman Bob Young said.
"We hope that justice is served," Police Superintendent Warren Riley told the AP.
While police involved in the Danziger bridge shooting always referred to it as a shootout, the surviving victims have disputed that, saying they were ambushed by officers.
Two men -- Ronald Madison, 40, who was mentally challenged, and James Brissette, 19 -- were killed. The survivors included a husband and wife, their two teenage children and a nephew.
At the end of December 2006, a grand jury charged seven New Orleans police officers with either murder or attempted murder charges.
The case sputtered in Criminal District Court, however, and was thrown out in the summer of 2008.
In a twist, one of the key reasons the case tanked was that an assistant district attorney improperly showed Lohman a snippet of grand jury testimony during an interview. Under Louisiana law, grand jury proceedings are strictly secret.
Federal investigators publicly acknowledged taking up the case in fall 2008. Since then, the FBI and prosecutors have been looking at another post-Katrina case, the shooting of a man in Algiers, whose body federal investigators believe was burned by NOPD officers, sources have said.
In the past couple weeks, the FBI has also acknowledged looking at the shooting of a 41-year-old drifter in Faubourg Marigny. Federal agents have also subpoenaed records from two other police shootings after the storm, including the death of a 45-year-old grandfather in front of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the nonfatal shooting of a man on an interstate overpass
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Tags: New Orleans, NOPD, Police, Police Shooting, Hurricane Katrina, Police Brutality, Danziger Bridge
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States (load item map)
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