An Algiers man is expected to plead guilty in New Orleans federal court Wednesday to firing a shotgun at three other men in a racist attack after Hurricane Katrina 13 years ago, but prosecutors have dismissed charges that he plotted his actions in advance or sought to cover them up.
The government on Monday filed a bill of information charging Roland Bourgeois, 55, with committing a hate crime and illegally using a gun to carry it out in the last open case alleging civil rights abuses in the chaotic aftermath of Katrina.
More than 13 years after the storm, the last open case alleging civil rights abuses in New Orleans in the apocalyptic wake of Hurricane Katrin…
The new document omits mention of previous charges that Bourgeois conspired to commit a hate crime, lied to federal agents probing the incident, and ordered a witness to lie to authorities as well.
The conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges were included in a 2010 grand jury indictment handed up against Bourgeois, which the bill of information has now replaced.
Bourgeois is scheduled to appear Wednesday afternoon in front of U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon for a rearraignment hearing, a type of proceeding where defendants typically abandon not-guilty pleas as part of deals with prosecutors.
Prosecutors commonly outline the amended charges to which defendants will plead guilty in bills of information filed a short time before the rearraignment hearings.
The crimes cited in the bill filed against Bourgeois this week can bring extensive prison time. However, the terms of whatever plea deal he may have struck with prosecutors have not been disclosed.
WWL-TV legal analyst Donald “Chick” Foret, a former federal prosecutor, said Tuesday that, with a Nov. 26 trial date looming, both sides would have been motivated to resolve the case with a plea deal.
Bourgeois’ decision to plead guilty rather than stand trial will likely benefit him as Lemmon weighs what punishment to give him, Foret said. Meanwhile, prosecutors eliminate the possibility of issues being raised on appeal after repeated delays in the case over questions about the defendant’s physical and mental competency to stand trial, Foret noted.
“The public defenders office does its job by getting a number of elements of an alleged cover-up removed, but the government also gets what it wants in having him plead guilty to the central crime — to what he did,” Foret said.
Bourgeois’ case is the last of several centering on allegations of excessive use of force shortly after Katrina that the feds prosecuted when local officials failed to act. Others included the police killings of James Brissette and Ronald Madison on the Danziger Bridge, Henry Glover in Algiers and Danny Brumfield in front of the Morial Convention Center.
All of those cases resulted in charges against police officers and at least one conviction.
Bourgeois wasn’t a cop, but he is white, and he was accused of shooting three black men, hitting one, on Sept. 1, 2005, three days after Katrina hit the city. The racial aspects of the case drew attention from investigative journalist A.C. Thompson and later the U.S. government.
The feds initially said Bourgeois had warned he would shoot anyone “darker than a brown paper bag” who came close to his home on Vallette Street while trying to evacuate the city or escape from the widespread flooding.
After making good on the threat, authorities said, he bragged that he “got” one, displaying like a trophy the bloodied baseball cap that fell from the head of Donnell Herrington when he was struck by a shotgun blast.
Bourgeois then lied to agents and told a witness to do the same when the feds began scrutinizing him, the government initially said.
Details have largely been kept out of the public record, but doubts over Bourgeois’ health have postponed his case more than a dozen times since his indictment eight years ago. In 2014, Lemmon went as far as to deem Bourgeois “physically incompetent” to stand trial, which left the case indefinitely in limbo.
Last year, though, a Tulane University psychiatrist determined that Bourgeois had regained the capacity to go through a trial. Authorities took him into custody and charged him with an unspecified bail violation while Lemmon ordered him to again be medically evaluated.
Despite being hospitalized for undisclosed reasons earlier this year, Lemmon this summer ordered Bourgeois to stand trial.