Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration recently agreed to pay $120,000 to a man who was shot in the head by a New Orleans Police Department officer in a 2014 incident that the department failed to make public for two days, prompting a public apology from then-NOPD Superintendent Ronal Serpas less than a week before he was ousted as chief.
The agreement, reached this summer, ended a federal civil rights lawsuit that Armond Bennett filed in 2015 against the city, Serpas, current NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison and three police officers.
One of those officers, Lisa Lewis, fired at least twice after stopping Bennett outside his brother's home in Algiers on Aug. 10, 2014. One bullet sliced across Bennett's scalp. He ran bleeding to his uncle's house, then spent four days in intensive care.
"Armond was shot when he should not have been. There was no justification for discharging the weapon," Bennett's attorney, Stephen Haedicke, said. "One of the bullets hit him in the head. Two inches lower and he would have been dead."
Neither Lewis nor Patrick Guidry, a fellow officer who was on the scene, had turned on their body-worn cameras, and the dashboard camera was off inside their police cruiser.
A New Orleans police officer shot a 26-year-old man in the head in Algiers as she tried to a…
Lewis, assigned to the NOPD's 4th District, had spotted Bennett on the Crescent City Connection and was trying to arrest him on a felony warrant related to a traffic stop she had conducted 10 days earlier alongside another veteran NOPD officer, Lucretia Gantner.
In that earlier incident, Bennett claimed Lewis grabbed him by the hair and pointed a gun in his face before he fled from the parking lot of a dialysis clinic where he worked as a security guard. He also alleged that Gantner concocted a police report claiming he had a gun.
Based on that claim and a small baggie of marijuana residue found in the car, a judge signed a warrant for Bennett's arrest on suspicion of carrying a firearm while in possession of an illegal substance, a felony. He also would be booked on misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession and simple criminal damage after Lewis' police radio fell from her belt.
All of those allegations would later be dropped, but not before Lewis spotted Bennett's car and she and Guidry followed it into Algiers. They exited their police cruiser with guns drawn, according to the lawsuit.
Bennett claimed Lewis pulled open his door and he got out with his hands up before the officer fired at him. He claimed he was "scared for his life" and ran away as the officer fired again, striking his scalp.
An initial "force investigation team" report said Bennett had attacked Lewis before the gunfire. Bennett, now 29, denied attacking her.
Emails between the New Orleans Police Department’s Public Information Office and a 4th Distr…
He will receive his $120,000 settlement over the course of a year, under an agreement in which none of the defendants admitted fault. U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey released Guidry from the lawsuit in July, shortly before the settlement.
In his lawsuit, Bennett claimed he didn't have a gun during the first traffic stop, only a holster. But Gantler's attorney, Eric Hessler, denied that his client wrote a phony report.
"She saw a gun in his hand as he fled," Hessler said. "The facts showed he fled from the parking lot where he was an armed security guard. It only makes sense that when he pulled in to report to work, as he was doing, he would have reported with a firearm."
Lewis' attorney, James Mullaly, called his client's version of events "perfectly opposite" of Bennett's. By Lewis' account, Bennett attacked her during both incidents and he grabbed for her gun in the second one.
"The weapon discharged after he grabbed it," Mullaly said. "She didn't take aim. There was a struggle over the weapon, and a discharge."
After a shooting in August by a New Orleans police officer who wasn’t wearing a body camera,…
There was no video to corroborate either account, however, because the officers' body cameras were never activated. Nor did the NOPD — which typically notifies the public about any officer-involved shooting — acknowledge the shooting for two days. Serpas later blamed internal miscommunication for the failure, but the black eye remained fresh when, days later, Landrieu showed Serpas the door after four years on the job.
Serpas is now a professor at Loyola University. Lewis and the other two officers who were named in Bennett's lawsuit remain on the force.