Evidence from about 3,000 criminal cases in New Orleans has been submerged in the toxic floodwaters that swamped police headquarters and the courthouse, reports USA Today. It’s unknown whether the evidence will be usable in prosecutions.
Thousands of witnesses and victims involved in the cases are scattered across the nation, and may be difficult to locate.
The crippling impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city’s justice system is becoming clearer. The 1,700-member New Orleans police force – which had about one-third of its officers flee the city or go missing during the flooding – has been propped up by hundreds of National Guard troops and federal law enforcement agents. All 10 of the Orleans Parish detention centers were flooded, forcing the evacuation of 6,000 prisoners to prisons and jails across Louisiana. Pending cases could be delayed or dismissed f records and evidence are not found or are damaged. Calvin Johnson, chief judge of the Orleans Parish Criminal Courts, said recovering evidence that was in storage on the lower floors of New Orleans’ police headquarters and the courts will require “a gargantuan” effort involving experts from outside Louisiana. Said Keith Nordyke, who heads a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers task force: “A huge part of the justice system is in crisis. Is the evidence available, and is it in usable condition? Is DNA evidence so tainted that it is now meaningless? Is the rock of crack cocaine still there?”