March 12, 2010

Melville House author investiagtes New Orleans murders, and gets big results


Keenon McCann bleeds from his wounds after he was shot on the Interstate-10 overpass near the Superdome in New Orleans on Sept. 1, 2005. McCann was one of at least 10 people shot by New Orleans police in the week after Hurricane Katrina.

For the past two years, Melville House author and ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson (author of Torture Taxi: On The Trail of the CIA’s Rendition Flights) has been investigating mysterious killings in post-Katrina New Orleans. In December 2008, he published “Katrina’s Hidden Race War” in The Nation, a piece that examined reports of white vigilante violence after the storm. Beginning last December, in partnership with PBS Frontline and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Thompson has been publishing a series of stories under the title “Law & Disorder” examining questionable shootings by the New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Katrina. And now the reporting is paying serious dividends.

According to a report from February 19, 2010, the F.B.I. immediately moved to investigate three of the  police shootings detailed in the Law & Disorder Series. And now, according to Thompson’s report from last week, the bureau is “investigating two more shootings described in stories we published in December…. Also, the city’s inspector general publicly accused Police Superintendent Warren Riley of illegally obstructing attempts to scrutinize police misconduct and disciplinary files.” This is in addition to two recent guilty pleas in connection with the Katrina police shootings: one from former New Orleans Police Department Lt. Michael Lohman,  who admitted to “conspiring to obstruct justice,” and one from Former police detective Jeffrey Lehrmann for “failing to report a felony.” Both pleas are connected to the Danziger Bridge incident, wherein police shot six citizens and which was also part of the ProPublica/Frontline/Times-Picayune investigation.

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.