During the turbulent days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, New Orleans police shot 10 civilians, at least four of whom died. Some incidents have prompted a U.S. Justice Department inquiry. A fresh examination of the post-storm period by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, PBS “Frontline,” and ProPublica, raises more questions about the actions of police officers who shot civilians. It reveals deep flaws in the police department's efforts to investigate its officers' use of deadly force in the chaos after the storm.
Any time an officer squeezes the trigger, a few issues immediately arise: Was the shooting justifiable, a situation that left the cop with no choice but to use lethal force? Or did the officer fire on someone who didn't truly pose a threat? In the Katrina shootings, the police department performed only cursory investigations before exonerating their fellow officers, interviews and internal police documents show. Cops who were present when the gunfire occurred took no statements from witnesses, or even their names and phone numbers. They repeatedly failed to gather important physical evidence, like weapons and bullet casings. Weeks later, when homicide detectives began looking into the shootings, they did little more than speak to the officers involved. Interviews with the cops who fired shots lasted as few as seven minutes.