Saturday, April 17, 2010
7619: NOPD—Rotten Apples Or Rotten Orchard?
From The Times-Picayune…
The New Orleans Police Department’s rotten orchard: An editorial
By Editorial page staff, The Times-Picayune
Whenever members of the New Orleans Police Department are accused of misconduct or convicted of crimes, Superintendent Warren Riley and police associations have asked New Orleanians not to judge the department based on the actions of “a few bad apples.”
But the recent string of criminal charges and guilty pleas involving police officers, and abominable revelations in some of those cases, demonstrate that the department’s problems are more serious than just having a handful of bad officers. The rotten orchard exposed on the police force has seriously undermined the public’s trust in the department and hurt the many brave and honest men and women on the force who are trying to make the city safer. That’s why prosecutors must complete a thorough cleanup of the department.
This week alone, two officers were accused of committing crimes.
On Thursday, state prosecutors charged Detective Herman Franklin with public payroll fraud for allegedly working private, off-duty details while he was being paid to investigate crimes for the Police Department. Similar abuse by Detective Franklin was first alleged in an internal department investigation revealed last year, which concluded that he had broken state law.
But state prosecutors and top police officials declined to bring criminal charges, instead cutting a secret deal that sent Detective Franklin to a diversion program. That allowed him to keep a clean record and remain on the force.
Detective Franklin’s attorney, Kevin Boshea, said his client has already been sanctioned for the payroll fraud and that the new charges amount to double jeopardy.
Prosecutors said the new charges stem from separate instances of alleged payroll fraud. Filing criminal charges is the right avenue when such abuse is suspected—and it’s good to see prosecutors are doing so now.
Sadly, these were not the most serious criminal allegations made against a police officer this week.
On Friday, federal prosecutors filed charges against Officer Robert Barrios, who was accused of conspiring to obstruct justice in relation to the police shooting at the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
The charges allege that Officer Barrios conspired with other officers to cover up the shootings, which left two civilians dead and four wounded. He also provided false information to investigators, court documents allege.
The charges appeared in a bill of information, which typically signals the defendant is cooperating with the government and is expected to plead guilty. That would make Officer Barrios the fourth NOPD member to admit to crimes related to the Danziger Bridge incident and the second to do so among the officers who were present during the shootings.
One of those previous guilty pleas, from Officer Michael Hunter last week, described NOPD officers coldly shooting civilians Officer Hunter said were unarmed. The two other officers who also have pleaded guilty in the Danziger probe admitted to being part of a cover up for what they called a “bad shoot” of innocent civilians.
This is the second time Officer Barrios has faced charges in the bridge shootings. In late 2006 a state grand jury charged him with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, for allegedly firing at civilians on the bridge. That case included charges against six other officers as well, but fell apart in 2008 because of prosecutorial misconduct under then-District Attorney Eddie Jordan.
New Orleanians, however, still remember one image from that failed prosecution: The officers charged, included Officer Barrios, wading through a crowd of NOPD members who showed up to embrace the accused as heroes when they reported to Central Lockup on Jan. 2, 2007.
Many officers who demonstrated their support may feel betrayed now that some of their colleagues have admitted to numerous crimes.
Some of the other officers who participated in the Danziger shootings have been identified as targets of the federal probe, though they have not been charged. Their attorneys have said their clients committed no crime, and the officers are entitled to their day in court if they are accused of crimes.
Based on the grotesque corruption described by those who have pleaded guilty so far, New Orleanians expect investigators to aggressively seek justice against anyone who may have committed a crime.
Only then can the department begin removing the stain left by these horrible abuses.