Journalism in the Public Interest

Man Indicted for Alleged Racial Attack in Post-Katrina New Orleans

A former New Orleans resident was charged with federal hate crimes for his alleged role in a racially motivated shooting of three black men in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Roland Bourgeois, left, was indicted today for his involvement in post-Katrina shootings, including the shooting against Donnell Herrington, right. (Herrington photo courtesy of Frontline)

This was co-published with The Times-Picayune.

A former New Orleans resident was charged Thursday with federal hate crimes for his alleged role in a racially motivated shooting of three black men in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

The man, Roland J. Bourgeois Jr., 47, is accused of plotting to defend his Algiers Point neighborhood "from outsiders" including African-Americans, constructing barricades on public streets and using racial epithets to describe black people, according to the five-count indictment.

At one point, the charges claim, Bourgeois said, "Anything coming up this street darker than a paper bag is getting shot."

The indictment charges Bourgeois with doing just that when three black males walked through the neighborhood toward a makeshift Coast Guard evacuation center on Sept. 1, 2005. Bourgeois fired a shotgun at the trio, felling Donnell Herrington and wounding Herrington's two companions near the corner of Pelican Avenue and Vallette Street, according to the indictment.

Later, Bourgeois plucked Herrington's bloodied baseball cap from the ground and proudly displayed it to others, boasting that he "got one" and had shot a "looter," according to a witness.

Bourgeois, who denied any knowledge of the incident to federal agents, is also accused of coercing an eyewitness to the shooting to lie to investigators.

Bourgeois left Algiers Point after the hurricane and now lives in Columbia, Miss., according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which is prosecuting the case along with U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office.

The indictment, filed Thursday, charges Bourgeois with conspiracy to commit a hate crime, committing a hate crime with a deadly weapon and with intent to kill, making false statements and obstruction of justice. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.

The Herrington shooting was the subject of a lengthy Justice Department investigation into claims that white residents of Algiers Point attacked African-Americans in a spate of racially motivated violence in the wake of Katrina. Algiers Point did not flood, though it did sustain wind and storm damage.

The hurricane prompted more than a dozen residents in the neighborhood, most of whom are white, to take up arms, barricade streets with downed trees and debris, and coordinate vigilante patrols of the area.

A joint reporting project by The Times-Picayune, ProPublica and PBS' "Frontline" interviewed people this year who implicated Bourgeois in the shooting.

Bourgeois' mother, Pam Pitre, acknowledged in April that her son fired his shotgun at a black man that day and kept the man's hat. Pitre insisted her son "is not a racist" and said another man also fired. She said the shooting had nothing to do with skin color.

Terri Benjamin (Photo courtesy of Lori Spears)One witness, Terri Benjamin, recalled hearing gunfire and seeing Bourgeois among a group of armed white men. Bourgeois was gripping a shotgun and celebrating.

"My neighbor was jumping up and down, hooting and hollering like he was big-game hunting and he got the big one," she said earlier this year. "All of his friends were rallying him on, and they were cheering."

Another armed man approached soon afterward and told the group that the wounded man was still alive a few blocks away.

According to Benjamin, Bourgeois said, "I'm gonna kill that nigger," and ran, barefoot and shirtless, down the street before turning and jogging out of view.

Benjamin then heard another gunshot. And Bourgeois ran back to the group with a bloody baseball cap.

"And he brandished the cap for all of his friends," Benjamin recalled. "Everybody cheered. They were happy for him."

Herrington called news of the indictment on Thursday a "huge relief."

"It feels good to know that steps are being taken toward bringing that guy -- or those guys -- toward justice. It's been a long time coming," he said.

Herrington and his companions have said they were trying to get to an evacuation center set up at the ferry terminal in Algiers Point.

Herrington, who lives in Algiers, said his group was walking when a white man pointed his shotgun and, without saying a word, fired.

Shotgun pellets peppered his throat, torso and arms. He recalls scrambling to his feet and running. Herrington also remembers two more armed men joining the first gunman. As he ran, a second shotgun blast tore through his back.

Herrington eventually found his way to the home of an African-American couple who drove him to West Jefferson Medical Center, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair his internal jugular, which was shredded by buckshot.

His companions, cousin Marcel Alexander and friend Chris Collins, suffered minor gunshot wounds. Alexander said he and Collins were briefly taken hostage by a group of about five armed white men, one of whom threatened to set them on fire. Eventually the group allowed Alexander and Collins to flee.

Bourgeois is the only person charged to date in the shooting incident.

Herrington said no police officers interviewed him while he was at the hospital, though officers were present during his stay. He was later shuttled to a Baton Rouge medical facility.

When Herrington returned to New Orleans he said he visited the 4th District police station, but officers there didn't file a report on the shooting.

After the police failed to investigate, Herrington said he felt "nobody cared."

Federal investigators canvassed the neighborhood at various points last year. Several residents acknowledged testifying earlier this year before a federal grand jury.

Bourgeois was living months ago with his mother in Mississippi. She defended him in an interview in April, saying her son was terrified by the lawlessness in the city following the storm.

She said he had been threatened by a group of African-Americans and "pelted with bottles" in the days before the shooting occurred. Pitre, who heard a narrative of the events from her son, said he had encountered three dangerous and "arrogant" African-American men that day.

The men, who were trying to break into parked cars, "looked like gang members" to her son, she said.

After the trio of black men tried to move one of the barricades blocking the street, Bourgeois and another man began shooting at them, Pitre said. "Both men had guns. Both fired," she said, adding that she didn't know the name of the other shooter.

Pitre said the shots were meant to "scare," not to kill.

The only reason the matter came to the attention of federal authorities, she noted, is that "this man Roland shot survived and is telling his tale."

Herrington has long maintained that he and his companions had nothing to do with any criminal activity and were simply trying to make their way out of the stricken city.

A court date for Bourgeois had not been set as of Thursday evening, according to court records. The investigation is ongoing, according to a new release issued by the Justice Department.

Then there are the Danzinger Bridge shootings. White NOPD officers opened fire on group of unarmed black males, killing two. One man was 19. The other, 40 and mentally disabled was shot in the back. They conspired to forge reports to coverup the murders. Post-Katrina white vigilantism was rife. There are numerous examples of whites with guns tracking and shooting at black men. Three young men were summarily shot while walking through a whites calling themselves “N-hunters” Others seeking shelter near a convenience store were shot because whites considered them looters. Cops murdered a black man and burned his body in his car. Eleven murders have been attributed to white on black violence. DOJ continues to investigate 5 years after the fact.

Helen A. Spalding

July 18, 2010, 1:54 p.m.

It was clear to everyone after Katrina that the main objective of the administration was to decrease the black, poor population of New Orleans.  The comments made by Mr. Bush and other administration members are quite clear on this point.  They wanted to make a “Disneyland” New Orleans for white yuppies.  Leaving thousands of people in the Superdome without food or water was only the beginning of it.  Transporting people far away from New Orleans and then using their inability to get back home as an excuse to demolish their houses, the plan to turn the 9th ward into a park, with no people living there, and on and on.  All of those things make clear the intent to rid New Orleans of residents of color, and poor people.  I fear the same agenda applies in the gulf “cleanup”.  No one in authority cares about the people of the gulf, because they are mostly poor, working class folks.  The upper class doesn’t care about them, and we will see an attempt to “resettle” them far away from their homes and their destroyed livelihoods.  That way, BP can claim that it has “helped” them, and still sell the ocean front land to developers once it has been cleared of working folks.

Evil has no bounds. Hunting black people for sport?
He deserves the same fate as the victims of this senseless murder.

This was senseless,same thing over and over the have and the have not’s. This guy needs to be in jail,as do his partners. lock em up.

hmm I wonder if fox news will even consider covering this? or does this go against their propoganda?

Re: Helen Spaldiing- yeah, bush had it out for the black people. are you KIDDING ME!? it was his incompetence, and the failure to understand the magnitude of what was happening on the ground. lets not also forget the boat loads of chaos that was going on too. if that is what you call racist, i guess that would make the prime minister of haiti racist as well. lets recap…. bush = a complete douche.
        kanye west = no he’s racist. his actions prove             it

Prison time for Bourgeois is going to be tough - either solitary, or circulating in the general population, I suppose.

so street gangs were robbing and destroying the neighborhood after the storm. a neighborhood watch took to defending their neighborhood in the lack of any societal police force. when attacked by the street gang, they defended themselves and street justice prevented more robberies. Years later, one of the vigilantes gets charged with a hate crime because he isn’t the most non-racial in his speaking abilities. This is ridiculous. Bourgeois needs to be set free today. I know the man and have heard his side of the story the week after it happened. There is no hate in this man, he is honest and his remarks are consistent with those of a man defending his home in this neighborhood. There is nothing in the report of the fact that the bottles did contain flammables and he was fully justified in defending the integrity of his neighborhood.  Set this man free!

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
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