The New Orleans Police Department arrested two of its own officers and began the process of firing them after an off-duty fight with a civilian early Tuesday near a Mid-City bar, according to authorities.
John Galman and Spencer Sutton — rookies who graduated from the police training academy in December and had not yet completed a required probationary period — were booked on counts of simple battery in connection with an incident that sent the civilian to the hospital.
In a statement, Police Superintendent Michael Harrison said investigators collected video evidence and witness statements which "clearly" established that Galman, 26, and Sutton, 24, were the aggressors in an altercation culminating at Baudin and South Murat streets.
Update, 4:55 p.m. Tuesday: New Orleans police have arrested two of its officers who were involved in an off-duty fight outside a Mid-City bar …
“Members of our department are expected to comply with the law and adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct, whether on- or off-duty,” Harrison’s statement said.
“The swift pace at which the Public Integrity Bureau investigated this incident and the decisive actions taken by the NOPD ... by arresting the officers and starting the termination process clearly demonstrate how seriously our department views their actions.”
George Gomez, 36, who identified himself as the victim, said he was relieved to learn that Galman and Sutton had been arrested and would be dismissed from the force.
Gomez still had cuts, bruises, scabs and swelling on his face after being discharged from the hospital later Tuesday, when he shared his recollection of the morning's events with reporters.
Can't see video below? Click here.
Gomez said neither of the arrested men identified himself as an NOPD officer when he encountered them in the Mid-City Yacht Club, which is in the 400 block of South St. Patrick Street, near his house. Gomez said both men were white, and one said he didn't like the military camouflage shirt and pants being worn by Gomez, who is Hispanic.
"He asked me if I was American. I told him yes, and he got mad because he said I was fake," said Gomez, who described himself as a U.S. native who was raised in Honduras before returning to live in New Orleans.
Gomez, who speaks Spanish as well as English with an accent, also described being asked if he served in the military.
Gomez said he did serve, including with the Louisiana National Guard, but the man who took issue with his clothing wasn't satisfied with any of his answers.
Gomez told WWL-TV that he had walked home from the neighborhood bar and was trying to leave in his truck when the other men stepped in front of the vehicle to stop it and assault him.
Law enforcement sources familiar with the rookie officers’ version of the incident offered a different narrative, saying the fight began when one of the officers noticed a man wearing military garb and asked the man whether he had a service record.
The sources said the officers eventually left the bar believing the matter was settled, only to find the man in military garb trailing them in his car.
He got out of his car, the sources said, and threatened the officers, who said they fought back in self-defense.
One of the sources said the man was brandishing "a heavy walking stick" as a weapon. Gomez later said he uses a walking cane to help him cope with back problems.
The officers then called other police officers, who responded to the scene and asked for paramedics to come.
The victim was in stable condition when he was taken to the hospital, Emergency Medical Services spokeswoman Liz Belcher said.
Exactly what happened Tuesday morning remained murky. Harrison's statement did not delve into the specifics cited by either Gomez or the police sources supporting the two rookie officers.
Neighbors living in the area said they saw police at Baudin and South Murat streets, two blocks away from the bar, at 3 a.m. They also said police canvassed the neighborhood shortly after sunrise to look for any surveillance video of the incident.
Splatters of blood remained in the street by late morning.
Recordings of police radio transmissions at the time of the incident described how at least one off-duty officer at the intersection had detained "a subject ... armed with a blunt object."
Later in the recordings, a voice is heard saying, "We're gonna need EMS, Murat and Baudin. You got a male down bleeding. Looks like he was beat up." The voice adds that police responding to the scene had taken two people into custody.
Employees at the Mid-City Yacht Club declined to comment. Messages left for the bar’s owner were not immediately returned.
Claude Schlesinger, a Fraternal Order of Police attorney representing Galman, said Tuesday night, "We argue that the other guy is the aggressor in this. He confronted them." It was unclear who may be representing Sutton.
Galman and Sutton can’t appeal the Police Department's decision to dismiss them because they have not completed their probationary period.
In Louisiana, simple battery is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a maximum fine of $1,000. But police said internal investigators were still working to decide whether Galman and Sutton should face more serious counts.
The Police Department’s rapid handling of Tuesday’s incident was in stark contrast with how the agency dealt with another bar fight a few years ago that pitted mostly white off-duty officers against minority civilians.
A brawl outside the Beachcorner on Canal Street the night of Mardi Gras 2008 between a large group of mostly white New Orleans cops and four black off-duty Regional Transit Authority employees resulted in a handful of officers being disciplined internally, but a federal civil rights probe produced no criminal charges.
There were unproven allegations of a cover-up involving at least one high-ranking NOPD member — whose son supposedly was at the Beachcorner when the fight broke out — before the feds’ investigation fizzled out.
The incident was one of many that preceded the city's signing a 2013 consent decree mandating scores of reforms at the NOPD.
WWL-TV’s Danny Monterverde contributed to this report. This post originally said Claude Schlesinger represented both officers but has been corrected to say he only represents Galman.