Algiers Police Shooting Report Altered, Sources Say
A police report about the shooting of a man whose burned corpse was later discovered in a car on the Algiers levee after Hurricane Katrina apparently differs from the report originally written by the sergeant whose name appears on the document's cover page, sources close to a federal investigation into the matter say.
The report attempts to explain why an officer fired his rifle at a man he thought was looting an Algiers strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005, four days after Katrina.
Though the officer, David Warren, did not think his shot struck anyone, details of the incident described in the report square with the shooting of Henry Glover, who perished in police custody later that day and whose corpse was later incinerated in a car on the levee.
The report offers a few more details about what may have happened to Glover, the subject of an intensive federal civil rights probe expected to result in police indictments.
That probe is occurring against the backdrop of another sprawling probe into the shootings by New Orleans police of six people on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, which have led to two guilty pleas by officers who say they participated in a wide-ranging cover-up. All told, the FBI has confirmed at least seven civil rights probes into the New Orleans Police Department.
The report about the Sept. 2 shooting incident raises as many questions as it answers.
For instance, the initial incident report purports to have been written by Sgt. Nina Simmons. But sources close to the case say she did not write it, at least not in its present form.
While Simmons, then a supervisor in the Algiers-based 4th District, filled out and signed the NOPD's standard cover page for a police report and submitted a report to superiors, a source said she did not write the following two typewritten pages.
The report is vague about whether the man who was shot at posed a threat to Warren, saying the officer saw something in the man's right hand "which he perceived was a weapon," causing him to fear for his safety and fire. In general, officers aren't supposed to fire their weapons unless they are facing a person posing a physical threat to themselves or others.
Although protocol requires all weapons discharges to be reported to the Public Integrity Bureau, in this case, the report says, Warren's superiors simply reviewed the shooting and deemed it justified. That course was followed, the report suggests, because Katrina made following normal practices impossible. Experts who examined the report said there isn't enough information in the report to determine whether the shooting was proper.
City 'Plagued by Looters'
And while police incident reports are generally dry recitations of the relevant circumstances, the Warren incident report pauses at several points to make reference to the conditions around the city.
"It should be noted that at this time the entire City of New Orleans was plagued by looters at almost every section of the city," it says, after describing the alleged looter's truck. "It is also a fact that Police Officer Kevin Thomas had been severely wounded by being shot to the head by a looter. These brazen criminal acts had all police officers on high alert."
The NOPD declined to answer questions about the report, citing the ongoing federal investigation. NOPD spokesman Bob Young provided this statement: "The information that you are requesting is part of the federal investigation currently in progress. The NOPD will not comment on any part of the ongoing federal investigation. The NOPD has cooperated with the federal investigators and will continue to cooperate throughout their investigation."
Simmons' attorney, Townsend Myers, declined to comment, while Warren's attorney did not return a request for comment.
Shooting Reported Promptly
Warren's attorney, Joseph Albe, has previously acknowledged that federal investigators think his client shot Glover, although he has disputed that the known facts definitively connect Warren to that shooting. Warren left the force in 2008.
In an interview last month, Albe explained Warren's situation like this: Warren was guarding a building at the time, and because two men were "charging" toward the building, Warren felt he was in danger. He fired his rifle once, not knowing where the bullet landed, then called ranking officers and reported the shooting.
"He did exactly what he was supposed to have done," Albe said.
A newcomer to the NOPD at the time of Katrina, Warren was actually stationed in the 7th District in eastern New Orleans, Albe said. But Warren lives on the West Bank and wasn't able to get to that flooded area of the city, so after the storm he reported to duty at the 4th District.
On Sept. 2, supervisors paired Warren with Officer Linda Howard, a more experienced officer, assigning them to protect the 4th district's detective bureau, on the second floor of a shopping complex that included a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant. Both Warren and Howard were on the second-story balcony outside the bureau, according to the report.
The shooting actually took place behind the complex, according to the report. The officers heard a car approaching. As they moved to the part of the balcony facing a narrow parking lot bordering Seine Street, referred to as a "back service alley," Howard saw a white pick-up truck with a "Firestone" logo, according to the report.
Two men got out of the truck, heading quickly toward the rear gate of the building, she said.
The report states that Warren, who was in uniform, identified himself as a police officer, yelling, "Police -- get out!" One of the men looked at him and continued toward the building, the report states. Warren then saw "an object" that he "perceived was a weapon."
A handwritten "resisting arrest report" also obtained by The Times-Picayune is less specific about what Warren saw. This document, also signed by Simmons, as well as then-Lt. Gary Gremillion, says Warren spotted an "unknown type object" in the alleged looter's right hand.
Officer Thought His Shot Missed
In both reports, Warren, who won a precision shooting award in the NOPD's academy, says he feared for his safety. He fired his gun in the direction of the suspect below him. Both men then took off down Seine Street.
After the shooting, Warren believed "he missed the suspect," the report states.
Howard could not see Warren fire his weapon from her position, according to the report. She did not return a call for comment.
In the last three paragraphs, the report states that after the shooting Warren notified Simmons, although it doesn't say when. Other officers looked for a shooting victim, but couldn't find one, the report states.
The report notes that knowledge of the incident went up the NOPD command structure to 4th District Capt. David Kirsch and Lt. Robert Italiano, head of the district investigative unit. The required notifications to the Public Integrity Bureau and other units could not be made because of the storm, the report says.
Kirsch and Italiano, along with the on-scene supervisor, eventually concluded the use of force by Warren was justified, the report states. The NOPD's operations manual notes that state law defines the justifiable use of deadly force as when an officer is in "imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm" or must protect another person from the same level of threat.
Kirsch did not respond to a request for comment; Italiano, who has since retired from the force, declined to comment.
Key Facts Absent From Report
Experts who reviewed the report at the request of reporters said the document left many questions unanswered -- including whether Warren acted properly in pulling the trigger.
"It's impossible to tell from the report whether you had a good shoot or you didn't," said Ron McCarthy, a former Los Angeles police officer who has consulted for the U.S. Justice Department on shooting incidents.
In his view, key facts are absent from the report, including Warren's distance from the citizen he fired at, and how long he waited before notifying his superiors of the incident. McCarthy also wondered what became of the white pick-up described in the document. "What about the truck?" he asked. "That's missing from the report."
However, he tempered his criticism by saying the department couldn't do a thorough investigation until the crisis had abated. "It's unreasonable" to expect officers to do full-blown investigations under catastrophic conditions, said McCarthy, who has trained police in multiple countries.
McCarthy also found some positive signs in the document, starting with the fact that Warren chose to alert his bosses to the incident. Officers, he said, have "a tendency not report to shootings in circumstances that are chaotic or out of control, like Katrina."
David Klinger, an associate criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St.Louis and senior research scientist with the Police Foundation in Washington, wasn't ready to draw firm conclusions from the report.
"Given the thinness of the document, it's very hard to assess" whether the shooting was appropriate, said Klinger.
Klinger said he thinks NOPD brass should have gotten a more complete picture by conducting interviews with Warren and Howard when the situation in New Orleans stabilized. Such an approach would have generated "a fine-grained statement" from Warren.
In Klinger's view, "The officer's been done a disservice because we cannot know what officer Warren was thinking when he pulled the trigger."
Klinger, who wrote a book titled "Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's Eye View of Deadly Force," said it's crucial for police departments to investigate all police shootings -- including those with no apparent victims. It's not uncommon, he said, for officers to believe their bullets have missed when they've actually wounded or even killed citizens.
It doesn't appear that any investigative team was called in to examine the shooting, although the report concludes with the revelation that civilians in the 3400 block of Seine Street -- one block from the strip mall -- told officers a man had been shot nearby and was taken to the hospital by "an unknown person."
The report notes that the homicide squad was not called, although department policy requires homicide detectives to evaluate any police shooting that results in injury or death. Although the report was written in December, after the immediate chaos caused by the storm had subsided, the report said the unit was not available in "the wake and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina."
If Warren had missed the man he shot at, NOPD policy would call for the incident to be reviewed by a Public Integrity Bureau investigator and, eventually, a team of supervisors to determine whether the shooting was an indication that more training or discipline was warranted.
But it doesn't appear that review happened. These reviews are triggered by the assignment of an "ASI number," which is assigned to each officer-involved shooting, said Felix Loicano, former commander of the Public Integrity Bureau. "That is what generates the next step," he said.
The NOPD declined to comment on whether such a review took place.
Algiers Man Is Flagged Down to Help
Given Glover's location, it's difficult to understand how Warren would not have realized it if he had been shot.
William Tanner, an Algiers man, has said he was driving by and encountered Glover, his brother and a friend near the intersection of Texas Drive and Seine Street. That is about a half-block from the balcony perch where Warren said he was stationed -- a spot in clear view of the shopping center.
Tanner was flagged down by Glover's brother, Edward King, who said a man had been shot and needed assistance.
After getting the injured man in the car, Tanner said he decided the hospital was too far away and instead opted to drive to a nearby elementary school, where the NOPD's SWAT team had set up camp.
But at the SWAT encampment, Tanner and King have said, they were handcuffed, beaten and yelled at. Officers indicated they believed Glover was a looter and offered him no assistance.
Eventually, one of the officers took Tanner's keys and drove off with his car. Glover's body was still inside, Tanner said. It's not clear when he died.
While the police let the other men go, Tanner did not learn for weeks what had happened to his car. Eventually, a federal agent alerted him that its burned remains were on the Algiers levee, not far from the 4th District station. Glover's charred body was pulled out of that vehicle, according to the Orleans Parish coroner's office.