NEW ORLEANS – Officers shot an unarmed man in the back, burned his body, then doctored a police report in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a federal prosecutor said Monday at the close of a trial that will test the government's push to clean up the troubled New Orleans police department.
Attorneys for the five current or former officers charged in Henry Glover's death urged jurors to consider the 2005 storm when judging them, though prosecutors insist Katrina was no excuse.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Tuesday after 12 days of testimony.
"Hurricane Katrina did not mean that it was open season to shoot looters," Justice Department prosecutor Jared Fishman said during closing arguments Monday. "Hurricane Katrina didn't turn petty theft into a capital offense."
Glover, 31, was apparently driving a stolen truck and retrieving looted suitcases from outside a strip mall when a former officer, David Warren, shot him once with an assault rifle from a second-floor balcony on Sept. 2, 2005.
"Henry Glover only wanted to leave New Orleans," Fishman said. "Henry Glover never got that chance."
Rick Simmons, one of Warren's attorneys, said his client feared for his life and had a split second to react.
"It's just a tragedy, but it's not my client's fault," Simmons said.
Simmons said jurors must consider post-storm conditions when deciding whether his client acted reasonably. He also urged them to remember two words: "They stayed," he said, alluding to the fact that many other officers abandoned their posts after the storm.
Two of Warren's co-defendants, Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann and Officer Gregory McRae, are charged with burning Glover's body and beating men who had driven him to a makeshift police compound in search of help. The others, Lt. Travis McCabe and former Lt. Robert Italiano, are charged with writing and submitting a bogus report to make the shooting appear justified.
They are among 20 current or former New Orleans police officers charged this year in a series of Justice Department civil rights investigations. Their case is the first to go to trial. The Justice Department also is reviewing the department's polices and procedures at the invitation of Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys painted starkly different pictures of what happened the day Glover died.
Warren testified that Glover and his friend, Bernard Calloway, were running toward the building he was guarding and ignored his command to stop. Warren also said he thought he saw a gun in Glover's hand.
But prosecutors said Glover wasn't armed and portrayed Warren as trigger-happy and obsessed with guns. Calloway said he saw Glover leaning against the truck and lighting a cigarette with his back facing the mall just before he was shot.
McRae admitted he burned Glover's body by tossing a flare into the Chevrolet Malibu owned by one of the men who drove Glover to the police compound. Another officer testified he saw him laughing afterward.
But McRae testified that he was weary of seeing dead bodies after Katrina and didn't want to let another corpse rot, not thinking he might be destroying evidence of a crime. Frank DeSalvo, McRae's lawyer, said McRae made a bad mistake but didn't violate anybody's civil rights.
Scheuermann said they merely were instructed to move the car away from the compound and claimed he didn't know McRae planned to burn it.
McRae made "a unilateral decision that he kept to himself to burn a body ... and Dwayne Scheuermann is caught in the middle of it," said his attorney, Jeffrey Kearney.
Scheuermann and McRae both denied beating anyone. McCabe and Italiano denied falsifying a report on the shooting or lying to the FBI about what they knew about Glover's death.
Italiano's lawyer, Steven Lemoine, said his client was exhausted and distracted by personal matters in the months after Katrina and failed to connect the mall shooting to the discovery of the burned body until several years later, after he retired. Italiano has "made mistakes" but always told the truth about what he knew, Lemoine said.
McCabe is accused of fabricating material for a report that another officer, Sgt. Purnella Simmons, wrote on the shooting. She testified that she lied to a grand jury when she took responsibility for writing the entire report, but McCabe's lawyer, J. Michael Small, said her trial testimony wasn't credible.
Said Small: "You shouldn't punish your neighbor's dog on that sort of evidence, much less deprive a fellow citizen of his liberty."