For many Katrina survivors, "recovery" won't happen until the storm's human toll is repaired. Last week's verdict in the federal civil rights trial of five New Orleans cops accused of misconduct in the shooting death of Henry Glover (and a subsequent cover-up) was a major step in that direction.
Jurors convicted three of the five officers accused in the Glover case and acquitted two others. Of the three policement who were found guilty, two were cleared of related charges in the alleged beating of witnesses who tried to get Glover medical attention after he had been shot.
The jurors' split decision might strike some as a compromise verdict, but attorneys and court watchers I spoke with afterward paint a different picture. They say jurors did what they were asked to do: look at each charge and each defendant separately.
It's an imperfect system, but it's based on a far better process than what Henry Glover received. As relates to Glover, his killer was convicted — as were those closest to the alleged cover-up. Despite prosecutors' best efforts, their case against the two officers who were fully acquitted was not as strong as those against the officers who were found guilty. Jurors recognized that.
This case is far from over, however. Attorneys for the officers found guilty will no doubt appeal, and a whole new phase of the investigation will now begin at the NOPD. Police Chief Ronal Serpas must decide what to do about some officers who either were not charged or who were acquitted in the case. Just because they won't be going to federal prison doesn't mean they didn't violate departmental rules.
One aspect of the case that already has garnered a lot of attention is the handful of officers who testified for the feds after admitting they initially lied to the FBI and/or the federal grand jury investigating the Glover case. Serpas proclaimed a "you lie, you die" policy soon after he took over as chief. Now that policy will be put to the test.
Some say this is a tough call for Serpas. If he fires officers who came clean after initially lying to the feds — officers whose testimony made the Glover case stick — might he risk a "chilling effect" on future investigations into the NOPD? Then again, if he doesn't fire them, does he send a message that it's OK to lie as long as you cut a deal with the feds afterward?
Recently I heard him say he will enforce the policy to the letter, no exceptions. "It's a question of establishing and maintaining the credibility of the entire department," Serpas told a crowd of attorneys and judges who were meeting, oddly enough, in federal court.
At a press conference the morning after the Glover verdict, Serpas and Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced that the city's independent police monitor and the NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau will review testimony in the case and take action as needed. Serpas reiterated his "you lie, you die" policy and immediately put several officers on desk duty pending the NOPD investigation; two cops who were convicted and who are still on the force were placed on emergency suspension without pay. (Some officers in the Glover case have already retired from the NOPD.)
The mayor and the chief clearly wanted to send the message that this time, the NOPD will investigate Henry Glover's death thoroughly and objectively.
That, at last, is a major step toward recovery — not just for Henry Glover's family, but also for the NOPD and the citizens it is sworn to protect.