Prosecutors plan retrial in Katrina shootings cover-up case

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 28, 2012 8:03 PM
Prosecutors plan retrial in Katrina shootings cover-up case

By Kathy Finn

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors plan to seek a retrial for a retired New Orleans police detective accused of conspiring to cover up wrongdoing in police killings in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a spokeswoman said on Saturday.

A federal judge declared a mistrial on Friday in the case of Gerard Dugue, who was accused of obstructing justice, lying to the FBI and of civil rights violations by writing false police reports about the 2005 shooting.

"The government intends to retry Gerard Dugue," said Anna Christman, a spokeswoman U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. She declined to comment on the mistrial.

Police shot dead two unarmed civilians in the incident on the Danziger Bridge as much of New Orleans remained under water from flooding in the chaotic days following the hurricane.

Dugue was not directly involved in the shootings but took up the investigation a few months later.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt granted a mistrial in his case after a prosecutor mentioned a separate case that involved the defendant while questioning Dugue on the witness stand. The judge had warned attorneys not to mention that case.

Dugue's trial, which had opened on Monday, had been expected to take two weeks as the final proceeding against a group of police officers charged in connection with the shootings.

Ronald Madison, 40, and James Brissette, 17, were killed, and four others were seriously injured on the bridge after New Orleans police officers responded to a call about gunfire.

Prosecutors painted a picture of out-of-control officers firing indiscriminately at bystanders. Defense lawyers said the officers saw guns and believed they were in danger.

Last summer, jurors convicted five officers of civil rights violations and obstruction of justice in the case. The officers face sentences that could range up to life in prison.

Five other officers had pleaded guilty to participating in the shootings or cover-up and were sentenced to three to eight years in prison each. Most of those officers testified for the prosecution in the trial last summer and some had testified at Dugue's trial this week.

(Reporting by Kathy Finn; Editing by David Bailey and Cynthia Johnston)