Shot Frequently and Asked Few Questions
New Orleans police officers attacked two handcuffed civilians on Sept. 1, 2005 and repeatedly sought to keep journalists from documenting the beating, according to witness accounts and photographs.
It took New Orleans Times-Picayune editor Gordon Russell nearly five years to reconstruct the episode, which occurred on Religious Street, not far from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
No officers have been charged with any crimes in connection to the assault, and there are no police records detailing the encounter.
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Russell and freelance photographer Marko Georgiev stumbled onto the Religious Street scene while reporting on the aftermath of Katrina.
They found a group of officers surrounding two men lying on the ground. Georgiev, then working for the New York Times, took some photos. Officers detained the journalists, frisked them and took one of Georgiev's two cameras. One officer yanked the memory card out of the camera and slid it back to the photographer. The images of the Religious Street scene were in the other camera, however, and Georgiev managed to hold onto those photos.
Until recently, Georgiev and Russell weren't sure exactly what had happened to the civilians they saw on the ground that day.
Toronto Star photojournalist Lucas Oleniuk had a similar experience at the same location. He says he saw police officers attacking the two men, who were in handcuffs. Oleniuk also says the cops physically assaulted him and took his photo equipment.
According to Oleniuk, police punched and stomped the men, one of whom apparently lost control of his bowels due to the violence.
The two men who were beaten, Ernest "Ricky" Bell and Robert Williams, say police thought they had been involved in a gunfight with officers. But Bell and Williams say they had nothing to do with any shooting, though they do admit to stealing a limousine in hopes of getting out of the flooded city.
Williams claims police kicked out most of his upper front teeth, while Bell says he suffered from internal bleeding as result of the attack.
The Police Response
Recently retired NOPD Captain Anthony Cannatella, who was at the scene and oversaw some of the officers who were present, says he knows nothing about any beating. Bell and Williams weren't arrested because there wasn't enough evidence to tie them to the gunfight, Cannatella says.
Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, who was not with the NOPD when the assault occurred, has not made an official comment.
The Case Files
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