The New Orleans Police Department on Monday released video that shows an officer striking a handcuffed man inside the 8th District station in the French Quarter.
Last week the videotaped Sept. 30 incident spurred Police Superintendent Michael Harrison to fire Officer Alfred Moran, as well as two other officers who allegedly saw him strike the man.
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But it was not the excessive force that led the chief to fire the men, according to department documents released at the same time as the video. It was their failure to report the use of force and later their dishonesty about what had happened in statements to internal investigators.
“Once we saw the video and once we learned about the circumstances, we asked questions,” Harrison told WWL-TV. “Once we realized they were not truthful with that, that left us with really no decision.”
Attorneys for the fired officers have said they will appeal their terminations to the city’s Civil Service Commission.
Donovan Livaccari, a Fraternal Order of Police spokesman, criticized the Police Department’s reliance on videos over the officers’ testimony. He said the videos offer a “two-dimensional representation of what happened.”
Police said the investigation began the day after Moran struck Vincent Knapp, a homeless 58-year-old man who police said was arrested in the 300 block of Bourbon Street because he was seen “grabbing customers (and) trying to take drinks from them.”
Knapp was drunk and belligerent when he was taken into the 8th District station, according to statements from several police officers. He was handcuffed and tethered to a bench in a front room of the station about 11:30 p.m.
In the video, Knapp can be seen kicking Moran. The officer then punches him in the face and a short time later appears to hit Knapp a second time with the back of his left hand. The back of Knapp’s head hits the bench, causing what an investigative report calls “a loud noise.”
Several other officers were in the room, including Lewis Simmons, Christopher Jennings, Jeffery Tyler and Kelli Dunnaway, according to investigators. But none of them reported Moran’s use of force, despite department rules requiring them to do so.
Transporting Knapp to jail, internal investigators wrote, “Officers Moran and Simmons even had a conversation with each other on whether Mr. Knapp would be medically accepted at Central Lockup after he stated Officer Moran had hit him.”
The incident might never have been brought to light, police said, were it not for a suspicious sergeant. Sgt. Samuel Dupre was inside the room when Knapp was struck, according to investigators, but not in a position to see the incident.
Still, Dupre said later, he heard “commotion” and cussing.” The next afternoon, he decided to review footage from a camera that had been placed on a desk pointing toward Moran and the prisoner.
Dupre told a Public Integrity Bureau officer that night that what Moran did “was wrong and it appeared to be intentional.”
PIB investigators rated Dupre’s account of that night as highly credible. The other officers in the room, however, gave statements under questioning that were seen as unreliable.
Sgt. John Helou noted “obvious discrepancies and inconsistencies between each officer’s account of the incident.”
Moran denied punching Knapp. He chalked his failure to report the incident up to “a lapse in judgment and because I didn’t think there was much to it, I guess.”
Harrison ultimately decided he didn’t believe Moran, Simmons or Jennings. All three were fired.
Tyler, a 28-year veteran, changed his testimony about what had happened under PIB questioning. He was suspended for five days.
Meanwhile a PIB investigator said he did not believe the statements of a fifth officer in the room, Kelli Dunnaway, were credible. But the investigator’s conclusions were overruled by department brass, and she remains on the force.
“There was not enough evidence to prove she saw what occurred,” said Tyler Gamble, a Police Department spokesman.