NEW ORLEANS – A former police officer accused in the videotaped beating of a man in the French Quarter after Hurricane Katrina was acquitted Tuesday by a judge who heard the case without a jury.
"I didn't even find this a close call," said District Judge Frank Marullo.
Robert Evangelist, 37, had been charged with beating Robert Davis, 66, during an arrest videotaped by an Associated Press Television News crew the night of Oct. 8, 2005, about six weeks after Katrina.
Evangelist, who elected to have his case heard by Marullo without a jury, pleaded not guilty to second-degree battery and false imprisonment. Marullo acquitted him of both counts.
Marullo watched videotapes of the beating and its aftermath and noted that Davis could be seen struggling on the tape for several minutes.
"This event could have ended at any time if the man had put his hands behind his back," the judge said.
Evangelist, who was talking on his cell phone as he left the courthouse, did not comment.
"Obviously we are very pleased," said his attorney Franz Zibilich. "We agreed with the court all along that this was not a case of police brutality."
Davis and his attorney were approached by reporters after the ruling but left the courthouse through a side entrance without commenting.
Evangelist and Lance Schilling were fired after being accused of the beating, but Evangelist is appealing the dismissal. Schilling killed himself June 10.
A third officer, Stuart Smith, was accused of a misdemeanor charge of simple battery against Associated Press producer Richard Matthews. Marullo threw out that charge because prosecutors improperly used a statement he made to police, said Smith's attorney, Eric Hessler. Smith served a 120-day suspension and remains on the force.
The video also shows two FBI agents joining the police in subduing Davis. Federal officials said they would investigate their role, and the agents were never indicted.
Marullo, in making his verdict, questioned why prosecutors didn't pursue charges against the FBI agents.
"You choose when and where and who to prosecute, and your choices were wrong," Marullo said. "Not guilty."
The police officers said Davis, who had returned to New Orleans to check his property, started a confrontation after they stopped him on suspicion of being drunk. Davis, who was booked on suspicion of public intoxication but never charged, said he hadn't been drinking.
Davis testified Tuesday that he was headed to buy cigarettes in the French Quarter when he asked a police officer what time a curfew took effect that night. Before the officer could answer, a different officer cut him off, Davis said.
"Those were ignorant, unprofessional and rude officers," Davis recalled saying as he walked away from the policemen.
Moments later, an officer grabbed him from behind, threw him against a wall and punched his face, Davis testified. His assailant uttered a racial epithet during the attack, he said.
"I don't remember very much after that point," Davis said.
Dr. Frances Smith, who treated Davis at an emergency room, testified that he suffered facial fractures. Davis said he still feels lingering physical effects from the attack.
Zibilich said the videotape supports the defense's position that the officers acted appropriately.
"They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video screams and hollers two words, and those two words are 'not guilty,"' he said.