A second former New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) officer has pleaded guilty to covering up a deadly police shooting in the days after Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department today announced.
Jeffrey Lehrmann, a former NOPD detective who currently works as a special agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony (a charge for concealing a known felony), for failing to report a conspiracy to obstruct justice in the investigation of a police-involved shooting on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans. The Sept. 4, 2005, shooting left two civilians dead and four others seriously injured.
On Sept. 4, 2005, days after Hurricane Katrina, two police-involved shootings occurred on the Danziger Bridge. The east side shooting resulted in the death of one civilian and the wounding of four others. A second shooting on the west side resulted in the death of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old severely disabled man. Madison’s brother, Lance, was arrested on eight counts of attempting to kill police officers, only to be later released without indictment. The police maintained that they fired at the civilians in self-defense, after the civilians fired at police. However, last month, former NOPD Lieutenant Michael Lohman pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with other officers to cover up what he had determined was a “bad shoot” on the bridge. Today, defendant Lehrmann admitted that he also knew of and participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice in the investigation of the shooting.
Lehrmann, of Anthem, Ariz., entered his plea in federal court in New Orleans today before U. S. District Court Judge Lance M. Africk. The defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for June 10, 2010.
“We should all be able to trust that our law enforcement officers will protect us from harm in times of crisis. But amid the devastation that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, officers involved in covering up this deadly police shooting committed a disgraceful violation of the public trust,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively investigate the events that occurred on the Danziger Bridge.”
U. S. Attorney Jim Letten added, “This morning in court, a former New Orleans police officer pleaded guilty, admitting to concealing a conspiracy among a group of officers to obstruct justice in the investigation of the police shooting on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans which left two civilians dead and four other seriously injured. Although today’s guilty plea marks the second conviction in this important, ongoing investigation, it is important to note that this officer was the first to enter into an agreement with the United States and provide cooperation. The citizens we serve must know that as this investigation continues, our U. S. Attorney’s Office, along with the FBI and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, will do everything in our power to bring to justice all of the individuals responsible for the injustices which occurred on the bridge on Sept. 4, 2005.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge David Welker stated, “The FBI is uniquely tasked to investigate potential violations of the civil rights of the citizens of the United States. Today’s guilty plea is a clear message that the intensity of the investigation is increasing. The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will continue to aggressively pursue the evidence wherever it leads.”
According to court documents, Lehrmann learned from an NOPD supervisor (referred to in court documents as “the investigator”) that an officer on the bridge had “shot an innocent man.” Upon hearing that comment, Lehrmann concluded that the shooting on the bridge was a “bad shoot,” meaning that it was legally unjustified. Lehrmann admitted that he participated with his supervisors in the creation of a report that included false statements by the officers involved in the shooting; false claims about a gun that had in fact been planted by the investigator; and fabricated statements from witnesses who did not really exist. Lehrmann also admitted that the report of the Danziger Bridge investigation included false statements alleged to have been given by two of the victims of the police shooting.
According to the factual basis produced at the time of the plea, Lehrmann admitted that the report of the incident contained a false claim that the investigator had returned to the bridge the day after the shooting and had found a gun in the grass below where a family had been shot. In fact, according to Lehrmann, that story was “a lie.” According to Lehrmann, sometime after the shooting, he and two sergeants drove with the investigator to the investigator’s home, where the investigator retrieved a bag from his garage. When the investigator was asked what was in the bag, he responded, “a ham sandwich.” Lehrmann then looked in the bag and saw a gun that would be used in the Danziger Bridge investigation. Once the investigator assured Lehrmann and the sergeants that the gun was “clean,” meaning that it could not be traced to another crime, they all went along with the plan to plant the gun.
This case, which is ongoing, is being investigated by the New Orleans Field Office of the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Deputy Chief Bobbi Bernstein and Trial Attorney Forrest Christian of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia K. Evans of the Eastern District of Louisiana.