NEW ORLEANS – A Mississippi man was charged Thursday with firing a shotgun at three black men in New Orleans who were wounded in what prosecutors said was a racially motivated attack in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
Roland Bourgeois Jr., a 47-year-old white man, is charged in a five-count indictment with firing a shotgun at the men in the city's historic Algiers Point neighborhood on the south side of the Mississippi River while they tried to leave the center of the city after the August 2005 hurricane.
Bourgeois and others discussed shooting black people and defending the neighborhood from "outsiders" after the storm, the indictment says. He allegedly bragged that he "got" one after the shooting, then retrieved a bloody baseball cap belonging to one of the victims.
"When (he) was advised that the man he had shot was still alive, Bourgeois referred to the injured man using a racial epithet and threatened he would kill him," the indictment says.
Bourgeois also warned a black resident of Algiers Point that "anything coming up this street darker than a brown paper bag is getting shot."
Bourgeois, now a resident of Columbia, Miss., faces a possible life sentence if convicted of charges that include committing a hate crime with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said she didn't know if Bourgeois has an attorney.
The case against Bourgeois is one of several post-Katrina investigations opened by the Justice Department's civil rights division. On Tuesday, six current and former New Orleans police officers were indicted on federal civil rights charges stemming from deadly shootings on a bridge.
Police shot and killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. Five former officers already have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up to make it appear the shootings were justified.
Thursday's indictment only refers to Bourgeois' alleged victims by their initials, but a January 2009 article by ProPublica and The Nation magazine identifies them as Donnell Herrington, then 32; his cousin, Marcel Alexander, then 17; and a friend, Chris Collins, then 18.
Herrington, who was shot in the throat but survived, told The Nation that he didn't know the three heavily armed white men who shot at him.
"I just hit the ground. I didn't even know what happened," he recalled.
Letten said federal authorities learned about the shootings from press reports.
Bourgeois is the only person charged in the case. A date for his initial court appearance wasn't immediately set and he is not in custody. There was no listing for Bourgeois in Columbia.
Four of the police officers charged Tuesday in the Danziger Bridge shootings are scheduled to return to court Friday, and prosecutors are expected to ask a magistrate to keep them held in custody. Letten said Bourgeois wasn't arrested in part because he is apparently "in very poor health" and wasn't considered "a danger or a risk of flight."
Associated Press Writer Mary Foster contributed to this report.