An attorney for one of the three New Orleans Police Department officers involved in yesterday's shooting in Mid-City, which left one man dead and two officers seriously injured, today said he "welcomes an investigation" into the incident, which he said will exonerate his client Officer Jason Giroir.
"Officer Giroir has done nothing wrong, and I think an investigation will prove it," Eric Hessler said at a press conference at the Police Association of New Orleans' Mid-City Headquarters.
It was the first of two back-to-back police press conferences on the incident today, both with the apparent aim of assuaging community skepticism as to whether NOPD is able or willing to conduct a thorough investigation into an officer-involved fatal shooting.
Giroir, who was working an off-duty security detail near City Park yesterday morning, pulled over brothers Justin and Earl Sipp. After Giroir summoned backup, the run-of-the-mill stop quickly escalated into gunfire, leaving Justin Sipp dead and Officers Anthony Mayfield and Michael Asevedo seriously injured. Hessler said that Justin Sipp began firing at officers without any clear provocation.
NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas, in a later press conference at NOPD headquarters, said that police had so far confirmed much of Giroir's account. An examination of Earl Sipp's car revealed that the license plate light was out. Police had identified only eight casings from officers — seven from Mayfield's gun and one from Giroir's. Justin Sipp, on the other hand, fired 14 shots, emptying his gun at police.
Earl Sipp, who was shot in the leg during the gunfight, gave a videotaped statement to police (in front of Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson) telling them he knew his brother had carried a gun in the past, a crime since he was on parole.
Earl Sipp has been released with a traffic citation. Serpas said it was clear he had nothing to do with his brother's alleged actions in the shooting.
Today's PANO press conference was held in part to dispel any notion that Giroir's actions were either aggressive or racially motivated, Hessler told reporters. He said Giroir didn't even know the Sipp brothers were black until he walked up to their car. "Race played no role in his decision to stop" the car, he said.
Local NAACP chapter President Danatus King today called for a federal investigation into the incident.
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"Because of the community's existing lack of confidence in the local justice system's ability to conduct a fair and impartial investigation of this matter, it is extremely important that an investigation be conducted by federal government agents dispatched out of Washington," King said in an email to media outlets.
And in an email yesterday, WC Johnson of Community United for Change wrote, "Preliminary investigations suggest these two youths were wrongfully accosted and the results of one dead and the other wounded was unjustified due to excessive force by the police officers."
The NOPD's internal affairs unit, the Public Integrity Bureau, is working with homicide investigators, the second time the two divisions have worked together on a police weapon discharge, Serpas said. Addressing the call for a federal probe, he said that PIB works with two FBI agents who have complete access to every interview and file that is produced in the course of the investigation.
"The New Orleans Police Department is conducting this investigation with full transparency and collaboration" with Hutson's office and federal investigators, Serpas said.