U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued an order on Sept. 17, 2013, that overturned the jury convictions of five New Orleans police officers accused of shooting six unarmed people almost a week after Hurricane Katrina and then orchestrating a cover-up.
The Danziger Bridge verdicts were a landmark civil-rights victory for the U.S. Department of Justice, as prosecutors persuaded jurors not only that the shootings were unlawful, but that officers had lied about their actions for years. Jurors found that police began to cover up their actions almost immediately, escalating into the arrest of a man police knew to be innocent, the planting of a gun they later claimed was found at the scene, the crafting false accounts of what happened and, in the case of one defendant, the invention of fictional witnesses to bolster the police account of what happened.
In his 129-page order, Engelhardt found that “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” — largely on the part of a high-ranking former New Orleans prosecutor who anonymously posted online comments about the case, some during the trial itself — irredeemably tainted the trial. None of the prosecutors who posted pseudonymously, including a Washington, D.C.-based Department of Justice attorney uncovered at the judge’s prodding, were part of the government’s trial team.