Journalism in the Public Interest

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ProPublica: Law and Disorder

After Katrina, New Orleans Police
Shot Frequently and Asked Few Questions

Case One

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.

Religious Street


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The Evidence

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

Case One

Religious Street

There is no police report describing what happened in this photo.

Case Two

Matt McDonald

Why didn’t police tell his family he was killed by an officer?

Case Three

Danny Brumfield

How does a man waving down a police car die from a shotgun blast to his back?

Case Four

Keenon McCann

The gun police said he had was never found.

Case Five

Henry Glover

His skull and ashes were found in the back of an incinerated Chevy.

Case Six

Danziger Bridge

Officers responding to an emergency call opened fire on civilians, injuring four and killing two.

The Reporters

A.C. Thompson


Tom Jennings


Gordon Russell

City Editor
The Times-Picayune

Brendan McCarthy

The Times-Picayune

Laura Maggi

The Times-Picayune