NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An officer who intentionally overlooked evidence and failed to thoroughly search an assault suspect — giving an inadequate pat-down to the man police say later fatally shot another officer from the back of a moving patrol car — now faces criminal charges and has been suspended, authorities said Tuesday.
New Orleans police Chief Michael Harrison stopped short of saying that the officer intentionally helped the suspect or that the mistakes led to the June 20 shooting death of officer Daryle Holloway.
But Harrison said he was "disgusted" by officer Wardell Johnson's shoddy police work and attempts to cover it up.
Johnson, 39, was arrested Monday. He faces charges of malfeasance in office by tampering with evidence, theft and injuring public records. Bond was set at $30,000.
The police chief says Johnson's slipshod work began hours before Holloway was killed while transporting assault suspect Travis Boys, 33, to jail the morning of June 20.
Late June 19, Johnson and another officer responded to a report that Boys had fired a gun at his wife. At the crime scene, Harrison said, Johnson deliberately disregarded evidence that included a spent .40-caliber shell casing.
That piece of evidence is significant because police later said it was a .40-caliber weapon that was fired in the assault case, and because Holloway was later shot to death with a .40-caliber gun. Investigators say that Boys, who was handcuffed in the patrol car, somehow got his hands on such a weapon. They say they're still investigating how he did so.
At the assault scene, Johnson, a 12-year police department veteran, frisked Boys but "the pat-down was not thorough," Harrison said.
A .38-caliber handgun was seized — and police initially reported that the seized gun was the one Boys fired at his wife.
But it turned out, Harrison said, that Johnson had deliberately avoided collecting and processing the .40-caliber casing.
Investigators also discovered that Johnson had collected a box of unused .40-caliber bullets at the assault scene but never processed that evidence, Harrison said. Johnson initially lied about having the bullets and investigators later observed him tossing them out a car window, Harrison said.
A motive for trying to disregard the spent casing and withhold the box of bullets remains unclear. There's been no indication that Wardell had a relationship with Boys or wanted to help him, the chief said.
"It was sloppy police work. It has clear intent to cover up his sloppy police work," Harrison said. "We're not going to stand for it. There is no place for him or anybody else like him, who lacks that level of professionalism, that level of integrity, in this police department or any police department."
Boys escaped the police cruiser after Holloway was shot. Boys was at large for 24 hours. He was charged with first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty on Monday.
District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro has rarely asked for the death penalty since taking office in 2008 but is pushing for it for Boys.
Since the shooting, there has been an outpouring of support for Holloway, who was widely praised for his sense of humor and connections with the community.