U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have achieved a key break in their investigation of the New Orleans Police Department and the shooting of six civilians (two fatally) during Hurricane Katrina’s chaotic aftermath. According to Letten’s bill of information, none of the victims were armed. Former NOPD Lieutenant Jim Lohman has entered a guilty plea to federal charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and has agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in its investigation of the other police officers involved in the incident. State charges were filed in 2006 but dismissed in 2008.
Letten is a Republican, and a Bush appointee. His office has taken down some 200 corrupt public officials during his eight year tenure in office, making him perhaps the most trusted figure in the New Orleans area. His retention as U.S. Attorney has been supported by both Sen. David Vitter and Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Admitting a cover-up of shocking breadth, a former New Orleans police supervisor pleaded guilty to a federal obstruction charge on Wednesday, confessing that he participated in a conspiracy to justify the shooting of six unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina that was hatched not long after police stopped firing their weapons.
The guilty plea of Lt. Michael Lohman, who retired from the department earlier this month, contains explosive details of the alleged cover-up and ramps up the legal pressure on police officers involved in the shooting and subsequent investigation. It’s unclear when Lohman’s cooperation with federal authorities began, but he presumably is prepared to testify against the officers he says helped him lie about the circumstances of a shooting he immediately deemed a “bad shoot.”
The incident on the morning of Sept. 4, 2005, spanned nearly the entire length of the Danziger Bridge, which crosses the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans. Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, was shot to death outside a motel on the Gentilly side of the bridge.
James Brissette, 19, was killed on the eastern side of the bridge, while four people walking with him with were seriously wounded. Susan Bartholomew lost part of her arm in the shooting and her husband, Leonard Bartholomew III, was shot in the head. Their daughter, Leisha Bartholomew and a nephew, Jose Holmes, suffered multiple gunshot wounds. Leonard Bartholomew IV, a teenage son, was uninjured.
After the shooting, police arrested Lance Madison, a longtime FedEx employee who had been taking care of his brother after the storm. Madison was accused of shooting at officers and booked with attempted murder. That was a “false arrest,” according to the bill of information, the charging document that lays out the laws Lohman allegedly broke.