The federal government has sent letters informing two New Orleans police officers that they are targets of an investigation into the death of 45-year-old Danny Brumfield Sr., a man who was shot to death just outside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina, our partners at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported today.
According to the story, Brumfield's case is one of at least eight open civil-rights probes into post-Katrina shootings by the New Orleans Police Department. A federal investigation into his case began this year after our joint reporting effort with the Times-Picayune and PBS "Frontline" raised questions about the circumstances of his death and whether the police department's investigation had been thorough.
In particular, we pointed out that a homicide detective who investigated the shooting and decided it was "justified" had overlooked Brumfield's autopsy report. The detective had testified that Brumfield was shot from the front, which seemed to fit with the officers' account that Brumfield had jumped on the hood of the police car, armed with scissors. The autopsy showed he was shot from the back.
One of the letters sent by the feds states that investigators are considering perjury and obstruction charges against one of the officers, Ray Jones. Jones and his partner, Ronald Mitchell, were the two officers involved in the incident, and Mitchell fired the shot that killed Brumfield. Jones' attorney, Eric Hessler, told the Times-Picayune that his client was innocent and had reported the incident truthfully. Mitchell's actions are also being investigated.
The officers' account of the events contradicts the accounts of family members who witnessed the shooting.
The family said Brumfield tried to flag down the police car to get help, but the car rammed into him several times and he jumped on the hood to avoid being struck. A newspaper photograph of Brumfield's corpse does show scissors next to it, but the scissors were not collected, and police photos of the shooting were lost.
Brumfield's family settled a wrongful-death lawsuit with the city of New Orleans in 2008. The city agreed to pay $400,000.