NEW ORLEANS – Two New Orleans police officers were charged Thursday with lying under oath about the shooting death of a man outside the city's convention center in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, the latest case generated by a broad Justice Department probe of the police department.
Officers Ronald Mitchell and Ray Jones were patrolling the area where thousands had sought refuge and were later stranded when resident Danny Brumfield tried to flag the police down, according to the indictment. Brumfield either jumped on the car's hood or was struck by the vehicle, according to the indictment, and Mitchell shot Brumfield.
Mitchell claimed he shot and killed Brumfield after he lunged at him with a "shiny object" and testified that he thought Brumfield was armed with a knife.
The federal grand jury's six-count indictment charges the officer knew Brumfield didn't have an object, but the indictment doesn't explain why prosecutors believe the officers lied about it.
The indictment charges the officers with obstruction of justice and perjury for allegedly giving false testimony in a lawsuit filed by Brumfield's wife. Both officers face maximum sentences of 20 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The Justice Department's civil rights division is investigating a wide range of misconduct by New Orleans police officers, mostly in Katrina's immediate aftermath. With Thursday's indictment, 20 current or former officers have been charged in the probes so far.
Jones' attorney, Eric Hessler, disputed the indictment's account of the shooting that he called vague and said his client testified truthfully about it.
"On various legal levels, it fails to fit the bill of a federal crime," Hessler said of the allegations.
Mitchell's lawyer didn't immediately a call for comment. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten declined to comment on the indictment.
Richard Root, a lawyer for the Brumfield family, said he was puzzled Mitchell wasn't charged with more serious offenses in the shooting. Eyewitnesses said Brumfield didn't do anything to provoke the officers, according to Root.
"I still believe he was murdered," Root said. "I'm not criticizing (prosecutors) in any way. I just can't explain their thought process."
Brumfield and some of his relatives were among those at the convention center after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.
Mitchell and Jones were patrolling the area less than a week later, with Jones behind the wheel, when Brumfield approached. Mitchell shot Brumfield in the left rear shoulder while he was on the hood or sliding off of it, according to the indictment.
During his June 2007 deposition, Mitchell testified he exited the patrol car and checked Brumfield's vital signs. Jones testified he immediately stopped the patrol car after the shooting and got out to "scan the crowd" while Mitchell checked on Brumfield.
The indictment, however, said the officers "immediately fled the scene" after the shooting.
Brumfield's family settled a lawsuit against the city in July 2008 for $400,000.
Africa Brumfield, Danny's niece, said the family doesn't find any solace in the indictment, but doesn't "wish any harm" on the officers.
"We simply wanted an apology and an acknowledgment that what they did wasn't right," she said. "Instead, they tried to destroy my uncle's character. They tried to destroy his name."