NEW ORLEANS – A New Orleans police officer was convicted Friday of lying about the aftermath of a deadly shooting outside the city's convention center following Hurricane Katrina, but a jury acquitted the officer's partner of related charges.
Officer Ronald Mitchell, who shot and killed 45-year-old Danny Brumfield with a single shotgun blast in September 2005, was found guilty of one count of obstruction of justice and one count of perjury for lying when he said he left his patrol car after the shooting and checked for Brumfield's pulse.
The jury cleared Mitchell, 33, of two counts that charged him with lying about the shooting itself. Prosecutors alleged he had lied during a deposition in a civil lawsuit filed by Brumfield's widow when he claimed the man lunged at him with a "shiny object" before he shot him. Mitchell said he thought the object was a knife, but it turned out to be a pair of scissors.
Officer Ray Jones, who was driving the patrol car when Mitchell shot Brumfield, was acquitted of obstruction of justice and perjury charges. Prosecutors also claimed Jones lied about getting out of the car after the shooting.
Mitchell remains free on bond while he awaits a sentencing hearing set for March 7. He faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said.
Africa Brumfield, the victim's niece, said her family was pleased with the verdicts.
"Nobody issues out better justice than God, so we can live with that," she said of Mitchell's acquittals.
Mitchell and Jones weren't charged with the shooting itself. The prosecutor said Mitchell's description of the shooting didn't match the forensic evidence, but authorities couldn't be certain beyond a reasonable doubt whether the shooting was justified.
"I think it was a good result today, and I think the jury did a great job," Letten said.
Mitchell's attorney, Kerry Cuccia, thanked the jurors as they filed out of the courtroom and patted his client on his shoulder. Cuccia said he planned to appeal the convictions.
"We recognize the jury had a job to do and feel they worked very diligently though that," Cuccia said, adding that his client accepted the verdicts.
On Sept. 3, 2005, Mitchell and Jones were patrolling near the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where thousands of residents were stranded for days after the storm, when Brumfield approached their vehicle.
Witnesses who testified during the trial gave conflicting accounts of the deadly encounter. When Brumfield tried to flag down the officers, he either jumped on the hood of the car Jones was driving or was struck by the vehicle and fell on the hood. One witness said Brumfield exchanged heated words with one of the officers, while another said they didn't say anything to each other.
During his 2007 deposition for the civil suit, Mitchell said his partner stopped the car and swerved as Brumfield jumped on the hood, cracking the windshield.
"(Brumfield) came, jumped over on my side and lunged at me with what I thought was a knife at the time, but I know it was a shiny object. So, in protecting my life, I fired one shot from the shotgun," Mitchell said.
Both officers claimed they heard gunfire after they left the car.
"We got out of there," Jones, 34, said during his 2008 deposition. "I don't remember seeing muzzle flashes or anything like that, but I heard it."
Eric Hessler, Jones' lawyer, said his client is grateful that the jury believed his testimony.
"It's kind of bittersweet to him," Hessler said. "He thinks his partner was put in a bad position and did the best he could do under trying circumstances."
On Thursday, after deliberating for more than eight hours, jurors indicated they were deadlocked on at least one of the six counts. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance instructed them to return Friday for a second day. The jury returned its verdicts after roughly one more hour of deliberations.
Brumfield's family settled its lawsuit against the city for about $400,000 in July 2008.
The department reassigned Mitchell and Jones to desk duty following their indictment last year.
The case against the officers is one of several Justice Department probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers following Katrina.
In December 2010, a federal jury convicted three officers and acquitted two others in the death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was shot and killed by an officer outside a strip mall before a different officer burned his body in a car.
In August, five current or former officers were convicted of civil rights violations stemming from deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge. Five other former officers pleaded guilty to participating in a cover up that included a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports.