A federal jury today convicted one New Orleans police officer and acquitted another of charges connected to the shooting of a civilian during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Prosecutors charged the officers, Ronald Mitchell and Ray Jones, with lying about the death of 45-year-old Danny Brumfield, Sr., who was killed by a shotgun blast a few days after the storm made landfall.
After roughly nine hours of deliberations, the jury convicted Mitchell of perjury and obstruction of justice, but acquitted him of two other charges. They found Jones not guilty on all charges.
“The Brumfield family finally has the closure we need,” said Brumfield’s niece, Africa Brumfield.
The federal probe into Brumfield’s death was spurred by a 2009 report published by ProPublica, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and PBS “FRONTLINE,” which examined the shooting and highlighted the police department’s flawed response to it.
Mitchell is one of 16 current or former New Orleans police officers convicted of crimes committed in the wake of Katrina or shortly before the hurricane. A judge has set aside one of those convictions. The string of convictions is the product of a sprawling Justice Department investigation of the city’s deeply troubled police force.
The latest trial didn’t focus on the legality of the Brumfield shooting, but on sworn statements made by Mitchell and Jones regarding the killing, which occurred while the officers were riding in a police cruiser near the city’s convention center.
After the shooting, Brumfield’s widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit, which forced Mitchell and Jones to describe the incident in sworn depositions taken in 2007.
Prosecutors alleged that Mitchell – who fired the fatal shotgun blast – gave false testimony about the encounter that provoked the shooting by saying that Brumfield “lunged” at the car with a “shiny object.” Prosecutors also charged Mitchell with lying about his actions after the shooting, saying the officer falsely claimed that he got out of his police cruiser to check if Brumfield had a pulse.
Jones was accused of lying about stopping the car to check on Brumfield.
The jury convicted Mitchell of making false statements about checking on Brumfield, but not about the circumstances leading to the shooting, which were the subject of conflicting testimony during the trial.
Beyond the criminal trial, questions linger about the police department’s handling of Brumfield’s killing. As ProPublica and our partner organizations have reported, the detective assigned to the case never read Brumfield’s autopsy report and was unaware that he had been shot in the back, raising the possibility that he didn’t truly pose a threat to the officers.
The detective, DeCynda Barnes, said in her deposition testimony that it wasn’t police policy to read autopsy reports when investigating homicides.