Former New Orleans Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Cover Up the Danziger Bridge Shootings
WASHINGTON – Michael Lohman, a former Lieutenant of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD), has pleaded guilty to conspiring with fellow NOPD officers to obstruct justice by covering up a police-involved shooting that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department announced.
The Sept. 4, 2005, shooting on the Danziger Bridge left two civilians dead and four others seriously injured. Lohman, 41, of Terrytown, La., entered his plea in federal court in New Orleans today before U. S. District Court Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle.
According to court documents unsealed today, the incident involved at least seven NOPD officers who drove to the Danziger Bridge in a rental truck in response to a call for police assistance. On the east side of the bridge, the officers encountered six civilians (five members of the B Family, and J. B., a friend of the B Family), who were walking across the bridge to get food and supplies from a supermarket. The officers fired at the group of civilians, killing J. B. and seriously wounding four members of the B Family. Officers then traveled to the west side of the bridge, where they encountered Lance and Ronald Madison, who were crossing the bridge to visit the dentistry office of one of their other brothers. An officer shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old severely disabled man.
When Lohman arrived on the scene shortly after the shootings, he noticed that there were no guns on or near the dead and wounded civilians. After determining that the involved officers could not come up with any evidence to justify the shooting, he concluded that they had been involved in a "bad shoot." Lohman admitted today that, in the wake of the shooting, he participated in a conspiracy that involved, among other things, writing false reports about the incident, planting a gun and making up false witness statements. Lohman also admitted that he intended for the officers involved in the shooting to come up with a plausible story that would allow Lohman and other supervisors to conclude that the shooting was justified. According to his testimony, the officers then provided "false stories," which "evolved" over time.
According to the factual basis produced at the time of the plea , Lohman personally drafted a 17-page report, which he knew to be false, and provided that report to an investigator to submit as the official incident report. That same investigator had previously informed Lohman that he had a gun that he planned to "put under the bridge," and that the gun was "clean," meaning that it could not be linked to any other crime. Lohman understood that the investigator was going to use the gun as evidence to justify the shooting of the civilians, and he went along with that plan to plant evidence. Lohman admitted in court today that he knew that the civilians on the bridge had not actually possessed guns, and he knew that the investigator had also falsified statements by the civilians. Lohman also admitted that in May 2009, he provided false information to an FBI agent investigating this case.
"We rely on our law enforcement officers to protect us, particularly in times of disaster and devastation such as what followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. What this defendant did was a shameful violation of that public trust," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We will continue to aggressively investigate the incidents that occurred on the Danziger Bridge and we will continue to prosecute any officer who violates federal law."
"After closely monitoring the state prosecution which ended, we embarked on an intensive effort to reconstruct the tragic events on the Danziger Bridge. Our investigation has yielded the conviction of one of a group of NOPD officers responsible for a cover-up of the true circumstances of a deadly police shooting," said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten of the Eastern District of Louisiana . "As we forge ahead, the public we serve must know that we will leave no stone unturned to aggressively investigate and bring to justice any officer who tarnishes the badge through criminal conduct. We extend our appreciation to the majority of the NOPD officers who serve their department and their profession with honor and integrity."
"It is never acceptable to break the law in order to enforce it. The law must be respected by those entrusted to uphold it while protecting the rights of those they serve," said FBI Special Agent in Charge David Welker of the New Orleans Field Office . "It is the responsibility of the FBI to weed out the few who dishonor the police profession. There are many hardworking officers who sacrifice daily to bring honor to the NOPD badge, and the FBI will continue to work hand-in-hand with them in endeavors to ensure the safety of the citizens of New Orleans."
The one-count Bill of Information to which Lohman pleaded guilty charged him with violating the federal conspiracy statute by agreeing with other officers to write false reports about the shooting; to engage in misleading conduct; and to lie to agents with the FBI. The defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Sentencing has been scheduled for May 26, 2010.
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.