NEW ORLEANS – Calling the crimes inexcusable and barbaric, a judge sentenced two former New Orleans police officers to prison Thursday for their roles in the shooting death of an unarmed man whose body was later set on fire in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The 25-plus years David Warren received for shooting 31-year-old Henry Glover to death was the stiffest punishment so far in the Justice Department's investigations of post-Katrina police misconduct. Ex-officer Gregory McRae was sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning Glover's body after he was gunned down.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk rejected the notion that the cases would deter officers in the future from staying after a storm to protect the public. When Hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005, many officers fled the city, leaving the police department with depleted forces. The National Guard was eventually dispatched to help prevent looting and control much of the city.
Warren said he thought Glover had a gun and posed a threat when he shot him outside a police substation at a strip mall. The judge called his testimony absurd.
"Henry Glover was not at the strip mall to commit suicide. He was there to retrieve some baby clothing," Africk said. "You killed a man. Despite your tendentious arguments to the contrary, it was no mistake."
Prosecutors said Glover wasn't armed when Warren shot him in the back. A good Samaritan drove Glover's body to a police compound at a school. McRae commandeered the vehicle and set it on fire nearby.
"Your conduct was barbaric," Africk told McRae. "The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina was made uglier by your disturbing actions. ... At a time when more was expected of you, you failed miserably."
Lawyers for the men argued they deserved some leniency, partly because of the horrific conditions and chaos following the hurricane.
"I'm not saying what Mr. McRae did was right," said his attorney, Frank DeSalvo. "It was foolish (but) there's no way he anticipated the pain and suffering it would cause another man's family."
McRae could have received 50 years and Warren faced up to life in prison. Both faced mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the judge's sentences fell within the guidelines, but he couldn't elaborate. Africk also ordered Warren to pay Glover's family $7,642 for funeral expenses.
Edna Glover, Henry's mother, said after the hearing that she was satisfied with the punishments.
"I forgive these men because if I don't forgive them Jesus won't forgive me," she told the judge.
Rebecca Glover, Henry's aunt, said she had expected Warren and McRae to get stiffer sentences.
"It's a joke and I'm very, very upset about it," she said.
Warren and his attorney declined to address the judge before sentencing. Turning to face the courtroom gallery, McRae apologized to Glover and Warren's families.
"I never intended to impede justice, obstruct justice," he said.
Warren, 48, told jurors at the trial late last year that he opened fire because he feared for his life. Warren was guarding a police substation at the strip mall when he said Glover and a friend pulled up in a stolen truck and started running toward a gate that would have given them access to the building.
Warren testified that the men ignored his commands to stop and that he thought he saw a gun in Glover's hand before he fired one shot at him from a second-floor balcony.
His partner that day, Officer Linda Howard, testified Glover and Calloway weren't armed and didn't pose a threat.
Trial testimony showed that Glover and his friend were driving a truck stolen from a nearby business and had gone to the mall to retrieve a looted suitcase, but prosecutors said they were using the stolen items out of desperation so they could evacuate.
"Henry Glover was gunned down because you believed he was a looter," Africk told Warren.
McRae, 49, admitted he drove Glover's body from the makeshift police compound to a nearby Mississippi River levee in the good Samaritan's car and set it on fire. McRae said he burned the vehicle because he was weary of seeing rotting corpses after the storm. Another officer, however, testified he saw McRae laughing after he set the fire.
Jurors also convicted former Lt. Travis McCabe of writing a false report on the shooting. His sentencing has been postponed while his lawyers seek a new trial based on what they say is newly discovered evidence.
The jury cleared Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann of charges he burned Glover's body and beat one of the men who brought the dying Glover to the police compound in search of help after the Sept. 2, 2005, shooting. Robert Italiano, a retired police lieutenant, was acquitted of charges he submitted a false report on the shooting and lied to the FBI.
A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged last year in a series of Justice Department civil rights investigations. The probe of Glover's death was the first of those cases to be tried.
Next week, two officers are scheduled to be tried on charges stemming from the July 2005 beating death of a 48-year-old man. And a trial is scheduled to start in June for five current or former officers charged in deadly bridge shootings and an alleged plot to make the shootings appear justified.
Police shot and killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after Katrina. Five other former officers already have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up of the shootings. One received eight years in prison and the other three.