Before I tackle the subject of post Katrina police shootings in New Orleans I’ll publically disclose the man whom I knew as my grandfather (actually step granddad) growing up in Waveland was retired NOPD. He was admired widely for years after he left the force by the other officers but not for any particular acts of bravery or heroism. Rather the adulation derived from keeping his mouth shut after he was indicted by the feds who were investigating mafia corruption in New Orleans circa 1950’s and 60’s. The story goes Carlos paid off the jury and the rest is history when he was acquitted. In all the stories granddad told me of his life as a police officer/mafia bagman never once did the term justice ever enter into the conversation. It simply was not in the culture of the NOPD. As such seeing the southern version of The Shield play out in the news through the years not much surprised me including the spectacular case of Len Davis. Ironically Davis’ murder trial was held before Judge Ginger Barrigan, a jurist known on Slabbed for her favorable disposition towards murderers and insurance companies. It is through that prism that I read today’s Times Picayune and saw their series on police shootings in New Orleans after Katrina.
Before we get to the article those readers not from the New Orleans area need to do one thing. Forget the “news” as it was reported at the time. The most sensational stories such as groups of tethered bodies floating about were actually myths. Yes there was lawlessness and looting as is typical after natural disaster but it was nothing like you heard on the news.
The reality is found in variations of a recurring theme that has been well chronicled such as in the book The Great New Orleans Gun Grab which featured Ashton O’Dwyer’s story, one that we highlighted last summer here on Slabbed. Gun Grab highlights the abuse of second amendment rights by NOPD after Katrina telling the tales of citizens who stayed to protect their property after the storm such as Larry Hirst, whose wife provided my favorite quote in the book as she addressed the authorities who were harassing her law-abiding husband:
“…between you and the looters” she said, I’ll take the looters. At least they act like we expect them to.”
If NOPD treated law-abiding citizens like thugs, imagine how they treated people they thought were criminals? As is the case with Dr Death, ProPublica is asking the hard questions about 10 shootings in the aftermath of Katrina this time teamed up with the Times Picayune and the result is a series of articles detailing 10 police shootings after Katrina. Today they feature the story of Keenon McCann who was shot 5 times. His crime, looting water from a Kentwood Springs truck on an interstate overpass:
The tip came in on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 1, 2005, as disorder was spreading through the devastated city: Somebody had stolen a Kentwood Springs bottled water truck and was luring in thirsty flood victims with a promise of free water. As people approached the truck, they were being attacked and robbed.
Capt. Jeff Winn, then the commander of the New Orleans Police Department’s SWAT team, said the information had come from a fellow officer. “We heard that they had actually shot and hurt somebody and thrown ‘em off the Claiborne overpass,” Winn recalled later in a taped interview, adding that those involved “were actually raping women.”
The two said they immediately spied trouble: a man with a handgun standing near the back of the trucks. Armed with assault rifles, Winn and Scheuermann fired a barrage of high-velocity rounds. They peppered the torso of Keenon McCann, 28, a tall, beefy 9th Ward native.
There was just one problem: When the officers apprehended McCann, they didn’t find a gun, according to NOPD records. The officer who later investigated the incident speculated that McCann threw his weapon off the overpass.
The lack of a handgun raises questions about whether the shooting was proper. Police protocol says that officers should shoot suspects only when they are threatened or they think somebody else is about to be grievously harmed.
The facts as reported by the police seem awfully thin as the report makes clear. If the officers saw McCann with a gun and immediately shot him 5 times how could he have thrown the gun off the overpass. Miraculously McCann survived as we continue:
He was one of at least 10 people shot by New Orleans police in the week after the hurricane. An examination by The Times-Picayune, the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, and the PBS series “Frontline” has found that the NOPD did little to determine whether these shootings were justified, often failing to collect physical evidence, interview civilian witnesses or spend more than a few minutes questioning the police involved.
The cutting of corners on these investigations has also attracted the attention of the Justice Department.
More recently, however, Winn and Scheuermann have emerged as central figures in the Justice Department probe of possible police misconduct during Katrina. Sources close to the federal investigation say the two officers are the focus of a probe into the death of Henry Glover, an Algiers man who perished at Habans, the SWAT team’s elementary school compound, one day after the McCann shooting. Glover’s charred remains were later pulled out of a scorched Chevrolet Malibu near the 4th District police station.
McCann’s nightmare with the legal system doesn’t end with his recovery though as the story makes clear as we continue:
When McCann’s wounds had begun to heal, Corey Smith picked him up from the hospital in Baton Rouge. The two men, best friends, had grown up together in the 9th Ward, their homes a few feet apart.
Smith, who now lives in Texas, said McCann spoke extensively to him about the shooting, particularly in the immediate aftermath.
In the days after the shooting, “Keenon was real distraught,” remembered Smith. “He was real shaky, really upset about it. It was anger as well as fear.” McCann “had at least five wounds” scattered across his torso, according to Smith, who said he helped change his friend’s bandages.
“It all started with the truck,” Smith said, recalling what he’d been told. “There was no water so everybody was around the water truck getting water.”
Police yelled for the people clustered around the truck to “Halt!” and then, as the crowd sprinted away from the vehicle, Winn and Scheuermann began firing, Smith said his friend told him. He doesn’t think McCann was armed: “That’s totally bogus,” Smith said. McCann was accompanied by his mother and brother at the time of the shooting.
His family declined to comment for this story.
When McCann left the hospital in October 2005, he faced a new problem: the NOPD wanted to jail him for aggravated assault for allegedly threatening the officers with a gun.
A judge issued a warrant for his arrest, and Crimestoppers announced a $2,500 reward for information leading to his capture. In the spring of 2006 the NOPD ran a bulletin in The Times-Picayune saying McCann was wanted by the authorities. Accompanied by an attorney, John Fuller, McCann turned himself in.
McCann was released quickly on his own recognizance. In April 2008, the district attorney’s office formally declined to charge him, according to Chris Bowman, a spokesman for current District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. At the time the case was refused, before Cannizzaro took office, the agency’s internal computer system indicated that prosecutors were still waiting for a police report from the NOPD, Bowman said.
McCann, meanwhile, came after the NOPD, filing a civil lawsuit arguing that his rihts (sic) had been violated. McCann, the complaint states, wasn’t armed and wasn’t committing any crime when Winn and Scheuermann opened fire.
“After yelling orders for the crowd to disperse, the police officers lowered their weapons and took aim at Mr. McCann,” the complaint states. Though McCann hadn’t committed any crime, the officers shot him “three times” as his mother watched, causing “injuries to his ribcage, hip, kidney, and shoulder,” according to the legal filing.
McCann’s story took another unexpected twist as he was murdered for no apparent reason as we continue:
McCann’s civil case, meanwhile, never went to trial. While it was pending, in August 2008, McCann was murdered. His girlfriend told police he’d been at her house when he received a phone call from someone telling him to “come outside.” As he walked out onto Dreux Avenue, somebody shot him to death.
The murder remains unsolved.
Several of the reader comments on McCann’s murder mirrored my own thoughts as to the identity of whom should be the prime suspects in McCann’s murder. Meantime the people of New Orleans should take heed of the price of maintaining a corrupt and inefficient police force, especially after a natural disaster. Ashton may not see it but he is lucky to be alive. Meantime those that weren’t quite so lucky still await justice along with him.