NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For the second time in three years, a federal jury is being chosen to hear the Justice Department's case against a former New Orleans police officer who shot and killed a man outside a strip mall after Hurricane Katrina.
Jury selection began Monday for David Warren's retrial on manslaughter charges in the death of Henry Glover, 31, whose body was burned in a car by a different officer.
The case is unrelated to any other federal case, including those alleging police misconduct, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk told 47 potential jurors. He specifically mentioned deadly shootings on a bridge after the storm in 2005. Warren's attorneys argued in October that some prospective jurors had mistakenly believed that Warren was among officers involved in that case.
"This is not the Danziger Bridge case and has nothing to do with it," Africk told this group.
The New Orleans Police Department, plagued by years of complaints about corruption, came under renewed scrutiny after a string of police shootings in the chaotic aftermath of the 2005 storm. In 2011, the Justice Department issued a scathing report alleging the agency engaged in a pattern of discriminatory and unconstitutional conduct. The city and the Justice Department reached an agreement calling for sweeping changes in police policy, though the city has since objected to the potentially expensive agreement.
Warren was serving a prison sentence of nearly 26 years when a federal appeals court overturned convictions handed down in 2010, finding that he should have been tried separately from four other officers charged with participating in a cover-up designed to make Glover's shooting appear justified. Photographs of Glover's remains and "severely emotional" testimony about the burning and cover-up prejudiced jurors against Warren, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.
Outside the courthouse, Glover's aunt Rebecca Glover and African-American activists said they objected to the retrial because there is no question that Warren shot Glover.
Jurors must decide whether the shooting was justified. During his first trial, Warren testified that he believed Glover had a gun when he fired at him from a second-floor balcony at a strip mall where he was guarding a police substation.
Warren was among 20 officers charged in a series of federal investigations of alleged police misconduct in New Orleans — cases many saw as catalysts for healing the city's post-Katrina wounds. Five pleaded guilty; three were acquitted; four convictions were upheld; seven await retrials after their convictions were overturned; and another trial ended in a mistrial because of a prosecutor's ill-advised remarks.
Africk also asked the group of potential jurors whether they accepted as fact that the extraordinary times after the hurricane did not include government-imposed martial law.
The jury pool of 47 included nine African-Americans and seven people from Orleans Parish.
"We hope the jury won't be all white or majority white," said the Rev. Raymond Brown, one of the people with Rebecca Glover.
The group also included a dry-cleaning delivery driver, a banker, and several teachers and retired teachers.
A second jury pool will be brought in Tuesday. Africk told the group questioned Monday that after those who were not excused left in the evening, they would not have to return until noon Tuesday. He said he is confident a jury will be seated Tuesday.
A nurse from Jefferson Parish told Africk that she nursed former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's mother for about 10 years some 15 years ago, but that it would not affect her ability to consider the case impartially.
After about 30 minutes, Africk began calling people to the bench to ask privately about their answers on a questionnaire while instrumental music from jazz to soft pop played softly over the court's sound system. He said he did that to make sure their answers didn't influence those of other potential jurors.
During the first hour of such questioning, he talked with seven potential jurors and dismissed two of them.