Widespread media coverage has tainted the pool of potential jurors for the trial of six current or former New Orleans police officers charged in deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina, defense attorneys argued Friday in a bid to have the proceedings moved out of greater New Orleans.
In a court filing, the officers' defense attorneys argue that coverage of the Danziger Bridge case — and other Justice Department probes of alleged police misconduct in New Orleans — has demonized police officers and fostered a "general bias" against the city's police force.
"That bias will necessarily infect this jury pool and preclude the ability to gain a fair trial," the lawyers wrote.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt is scheduled to hear their request for a venue change on June 1. A trial for five of the six officers is scheduled to start June 13 in the Eastern District of Louisiana, which is based in New Orleans but is composed of 13 parishes.
The officers' lawyers didn't specify a preference for where they would like to move the trial.
A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten wouldn't comment on the court filing but said the office will respond to it in writing.
The defense lawyers counted thousands of local newspaper and television reports on the Danziger Bridge shootings, in which police killed two people and wounded four others less than a week after the 2005 storm.
They also note the case appears to be a plotline for the new season of the HBO television series "Treme." A character played by actress Melissa Leo is based in part on New Orleans civil rights attorney Mary Howell. She represents relatives of a mentally disabled man, Ronald Madison, who was shot and killed by police on the bridge. Leo's character mentioned the Danziger case on last Sunday's episode.
"It is expected that additional coverage of the Danziger events will occur on Treme and this may lead up to the time of trial," defense lawyers wrote. "It would be obscene to pick a jury in this region literally the day after some or all have watched the dramatization of the Danziger events on a locally-popular television show."
Police shot and killed Madison and 19-year-old James Brissette on different sides of the bridge. Officers also allegedly engaged in a cover-up to make the shootings appear to be justified.
A series of probes by the Justice Department's civil rights division resulted in charges against 20 current or former New Orleans police officers.
In December, a jury convicted three former officers in the death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was shot by an officer outside a strip mall before another officer burned his body. Last month, two officers were convicted in the fatal beating of a 48-year-old handyman, Raymond Robair.
By Michael Kunzelman, Associated Press
Source: The Republic