A federal district judge overturned the convictions in 2013
He ruled that Justice Department officials had thrown the verdict
They anonymously posted derogatory comments against the defendants online
Five New Orleans police officers convicted of gunning down unarmed people after Hurricane Katrina will get a new trial.
A federal appeals court made the ruling Tuesday, citing the misconduct by two then-federal prosecutors who were accused of anonymously posting derogatory comments against the defendants to local news website NOLA.com.
Their apparent trash talk during the trial torpedoed the validity of the guilty verdicts, a federal court found in 2013. The federal appeals court upheld that ruling.
Danziger Bridge shooting
In 2005, less than a week after Katrina left the city behind in ruins, police placed a distress call to their colleagues. Officers were being shot at near Danziger Bridge, they said, according to NOLA.com.
Officers responding to the distress call drove up in a rental truck and opened fire on people crossing the bridge on foot. A barrage of bullets killed two people – one of them a disabled man – and heavily wounded four more people.
People on the bridge said police ambushed them. The officers were also accused of orchestrating a cover-up after the killings.
But officers said the shooting was in self-defense, that they were fired upon when they arrived and returned fire.
A court disagreed and found the five guilty of 25 counts of civil rights violations. In 2012, a federal judge handed them sentences of six to 65 years in prison. But after the scandal with broke about the Justice officials’ alleged online comments, the same judge overturned the convictions in 2013.
The case was mired in judicial botches from the onset.
Initially, a state court had put the officers on trial, but a mistrial was declared, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said in its ruling Tuesday. “The federal government took over the prosecution and has also bungled it,” the ruling read.
The anonymous online comments on news articles about the trial may have been an attempt to influence the judge, the appeals court said Tuesday. And he was right to throw out the convictions, according to its ruling.
A panel of judges for the appeals court confirmed in a 2 to 1 ruling that the officers should get a new trial.