Roland Bourgeois mug

Roland Bourgeois, via mug

Despite earlier concerns over his physical and mental health, an Algiers white man charged with shooting at a group of black men in a racist attack a few days after Hurricane Katrina will stand trial in the fall, a federal judge has decided.

The ruling this month from U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon came nearly four years after she had indefinitely postponed the trial of Roland Bourgeois Jr., now 55.

Four years ago, Bourgeois was believed to be too enfeebled to help his attorneys defend him, but a psychiatrist who examined him last summer found he had regained the competence necessary for him to stand trial, court records show.

Lemmon in October ordered Bourgeois to undergo yet another mental health evaluation to help her decide whether to put the case back on her docket.

The results of that evaluation were discussed during a hearing in Lemmon’s court on May 31. And now, Bourgeois is scheduled to be tried beginning Nov. 26 on hate-crime and firearms charges, according to a document filed in court Friday. 

The case is one of several involving post-Katrina civil rights abuses that federal authorities prosecuted after local officials failed to act, including the police killings of Danny Brumfield, Henry Glover, James Brissette and Ronald Madison. 

While Bourgeois was not a police officer, the racial dynamics of his case made it notorious and drew scrutiny from federal authorities.

Bourgeois allegedly warned that he would protect his Algiers Point neighborhood by shooting “anything coming up (the) street darker than a brown paper bag.”

He was accused of firing a shotgun at three black men who were trying to evacuate on foot through Algiers Point on Sept. 1, 2005, three days after Katrina’s landfall.

Bourgeois later allegedly bragged that he “got” one, even displaying the bloodied baseball cap that fell from the head of Donnell Herrington, who was shot at Pelican Avenue and Vallette Street.

Bourgeois is also accused of telling a witness to lie to investigators looking into the shooting.

A federal grand jury indicted Bourgeois in 2010, and he pleaded not guilty. Then the case was delayed more than a dozen times because of questions about whether Bourgeois had the physical and mental capacity for a trial.

Details about Bourgeois’ health have remained largely under seal, though Lemmon remarked that the defendant was “physically incompetent” to stand trial before postponing the case indefinitely in August 2014.

Bourgeois, who had been free on bond since his initial arrest, was taken into custody again in August of last year, charged with a bond violation.

The month before that, a Tulane University psychiatrist had found that he was capable of standing trial, though details of that finding are sealed. 

Bourgeois appeared frail and needed a cane while appearing in court shortly after he was taken back into custody. He was also hospitalized for undisclosed reasons earlier this year, which temporarily delayed the completion of his mental health evaluation.

Lemmon held the May 31 hearing to discuss the evaluation’s results behind closed doors. A forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Browning, testified via a video conference feed during a hearing that lasted more than two hours, according to the court record.

Attorneys on both sides of the case made oral arguments at the proceeding and then followed up with written briefs that have not been made public. 

Investigative journalist A.C. Thompson exposed the allegations made against Bourgeois months before federal prosecutors first filed charges in the case. 

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.