NEW ORLEANS – Police officers shot and killed a man brandishing a knife in a confrontation that was partially videotaped by a bystander, setting off another internal investigation of the embattled department.
Monday's daylight shooting was the first involving police since New Orleans reopened after Hurricane Katrina. It follows the videotaped police beating of a man that led to two firings in the department.
A police spokesman, David Adams, said the officers who fired on the man will be reassigned pending the outcome of the probe, but he defended their response, saying at least one officer's life was in danger just before the barrage of gunfire.
"You have a subject who's lunging at them with a knife... swinging wildly at them and they're fearing for their life," Adams said. "They had no other choice but to resort to lethal force."
Adams said he did not know how many officers fired shots or how many shots were fired. Witnesses said a half dozen or more shots were fired.
Officers repeatedly asked the man to drop the knife and used pepper spray to try to subdue him, but he covered his face with a cloth and continued walking toward an officer and threatening him, authorities said.
"Evidently, the pepper spray had no effect," Adams said.
The 38-year-old man's name was not immediately released.
A businessman had called police after a confrontation with the victim in theLower Garden District west of downtown. The shooting happened on St. Charles Avenue, the thoroughfare famous for its historic green streetcars and Mardi Gras parades.
Phin Percy videotaped a portion of the confrontation before the shooting from his father's second-story apartment. "The cops kept telling him 'Lay down! Lay down!' This went on for about three minutes," he said.
While he was running downstairs, Percy said, he heard numerous shots. By the time he ran out the door, many more officers had arrived and the body was lying against a car.
When he reviewed his videotape, Percy said, he saw a small knife in the man's hand. The tape, broadcast nationally, appears to show about a dozen officers taking part in the confrontation.
Trey Brokaw, a patron at a nearby bar, said he saw the victim with a knife in his hand shortly before the shooting. "I didn't see anyone near him," Brokaw said. "It didn't seem like anyone was going to get hurt to me."
But Brokaw said he did not see what happened in the final moments before the shots rang out.
It was the first shooting of any kind involving a New Orleans officer since the city was officially reopened following Hurricane Katrina's devastation four months ago, Adams said.
Since the storm, the police department has struggled to rebuild its ranks and address questions about officers' conduct. Hundreds of officers left the city without permission in the days after the storm. There were also allegations of theft and looting by officers, still under investigation, and the videotaped beating of a retired teacher by police in the French Quarter that led to the firing of two officers. The police chief resigned a month after the storm.
New Orleans police have cordoned off the area where officers shot and killed a man this afternoon.
Yellow tape blocks traffic in both directions along Saint Charles Avenue, as well as the wide median about eight blocks from Lee Circle.
Police spokesman David Adams has not yet given any details.
Attorney Robert Jenkins was questioned by police, then approached a group of reporters to give a statement, saying he had seen the shooting. But a detective called him over and spoke briefly.
After that, Jenkins said he had decided against giving a statement just then.