New Trial Possible for Police Suspects In Katrina Killings

A New Orleans federal judge will consider a new trial for five of the city's police officers convicted in the killings of city residents in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In an order issued Nov. 26, U.S. District Kurt Englehardt said he would await a Justice Department internal investigation before ruling on a motion by defendants seeking a new trial because of misconduct by high-ranking members of the local prosecution office. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, below, has led the New Orleans-federal prosecution since his appointment in 2001 by President Bush.

Jim Letten

On Nov. 27, I said on the Tommy Tucker Show in New Orleans that the city faced "a crisis in confidence" because of a pattern of misconduct in law enforcement. The host broadcasts on WWL-AM and FM on a 50,00 watt radio show available nationwide. Tucker has been a forceful, independent voice in monitoring repeated instances of law enforcement misconduct in the region, and has invited me on the show several times previously this year to discuss the patterns. Update: I returned to the show Nov. 30 after Letten gave a speech saying he and his office remained "strong" and would not be distracted from their mission.

Letten faces scandals involving over-zealous subordinates.

Former New Orleans police officers are seeking to overturn their convictions for shooting residents fleeing the hurricane disaster area in 2005. The former policemen claimed that federal prosecutors hid evidence and relied on false testimony. As reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune (NOLA), the defendants' motion for a new trial claimed that federal prosecutors improperly delayed release of key videotaped evidence. Defendants also claimed the government knowingly used witness testimony that the video proved was false.

Following convictions of the defendants in 2011, the judge sentenced four defendant officers to terms ranging between 38 and 40 years. The judge imposed a six-year term on a fifth officer convicted of masterminding a cover-up.

Earlier this month, Letten announced he was demoting his First Assistant U.S. Attorney, Jan Mann, and was referring her to the Justice Department's Office of Responsibility for investigation. Mann is married to another prosecutor in Letten's office. Letten's actions followed a civil suit filed Nov. 2 by landfill owner Fred Heebe asserting that Mann had used the false name, "eweman," to make reader comments to the Times-Picayune critical of Heebe, a suspect in a corruption investigation. 

Tommy TuckerTucker told his audience this week that the prosecutor's misconduct would appear to merit more than a demotion. One of his WWL colleagues reported this week:

Prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned after being exposed as a blogger on the NOLA web site under several aliases. It initially appeared the scandal would end with Perricone, but two weeks ago, former First Assistant Jan Mann was demoted after she was exposed as a blogger two weeks ago. She is on leave and has not returned to work. 

Both prosecutors commented on a wide range of cases being handled by their office, as well as disparaging remarks about a host of public officials.  As a result of the most recent revelations by Mann, the Danziger defendants are re-urging a review of their request for a new trial. Their initial request, filed under seal in May, argued that the government leaked information to the media as part of a “secret public relations campaign” in an effort to sway public opinion against the New Orleans Police Department.

Letten declined to answer any questions on his probe of claims that Morris used "sock puppet" tactics early this year similar to those by Perricone, whom Letten fired. Perricone had been a senior federal prosecutor who confessed to authoring more than 500 anonymous web commentaries on civic affairs. Many of his harsh comments sought to shape public opinion in unprofessional ways about his own cases, colleagues, judges or defendants. In October, Jan Morris wrote a letter to the judge professing dismay at Perricone's actions but failing to disclosure that she also had been writing the same kinds of anonymous reader comments.

Heebe, the landfill magnate, exposed the prosecutor's duplicity with the help of forensic analysis and one of the nation's top law firms, Washington-based Williams and Connolly. These expensive defense tactics are far beyond the means of most litigants, who necessarily rely on the integrity of the Justice Department and its personnel.

The concept of prosecutors providing half-truths or lies to federal judges is, in theory, an especially serious professional lapse. Experience has shown, however, that such instance can be papered over to avoid embarrassment for all concerned.    

The radio host, Tucker, his WWL colleagues, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune are keeping up the pressure on Letten to describe why he failed to foster a more professional office environment.  


Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment


Related News Coverage


WWL AM & FM, Jan & Jim Mann leave U.S. Attorney's Office, Jay Vise, Dec. 17, 2012. Two more veteran federal prosecutors are without a job following charges of inappropriate conduct in former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office. A Justice Department official today said Jan and Jim Mann are both resigning their positions with the U.S. Attorney's Offce as the investigation into "Blog Gate" continues. Jan Mann has so far not publicly admitted to anonymously blogging online about open cases.  However, a federal judge wrote in a recent court order that former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten told the judge that Mann admitted to blogging under the online handle "eweman."  Her husband Jim is also a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans.  He has so far not been implicated in the scandal that earlier forced the resignation of long-time federal prosecutor Sal Perricone.

WWL-AM/FM, (New Orleans), Letten resigns, Jay Vise, Dec. 6, 2012. Jim Letten today announced his resignation as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. Letten stepped down as the investigation of misconduct by two of his two top prosecutors continues. Andrew Kreig Editor's Note: WWL host Tommy Tucker invited this editor to return to the show to comment on the resignation. 

Washington Post, New Orleans U.S. attorney resigns amid scandal over anonymous online postings, Sari Horwitz, Dec. 6, 2012. The top federal prosecutor in New Orleans, the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country, resigned Thursday amid an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct by two of his top deputies. Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, announced his resignation at a news conference. In an emotional speech, he praised the office and said he would stay on briefly to help with the transition to new leadership. The resignation comes eight months into a scandal that led to a Justice Department investigation of Letten’s top deputy and a second veteran prosecutor in connection with an online criticism scandal. The two prosecutors, former first assistant U.S. attorney Jan Mann and former assistant U.S. attorney Sal Perricone, acknowledged using aliases to post comments on the Web site of the Times-Picayune that were highly critical of the owner of a local landfill that was under federal investigation, according to court papers. Perricone, a member of Letten’s inner circle, resigned and Mann was demoted. The top federal prosecutor in New Orleans, the longest-serving U.S. attorney in the country, resigned Thursday amid an investigation into possible prosecutorial misconduct by two of his top deputies. The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which enforces standards of ethical conduct among U.S. attorneys and department lawyers, found professional misconduct in 11 out of 72 investigations conducted in fiscal year 2011. Most of the allegations involved “failure to diligently represent the interests of the client” and “lateness/missed deadlines.” The numbers fluctuate each year, but Justice officials made virtually the same number of misconduct findings in fiscal year 2009 — 12 out of 77 investigations. In fiscal year 2010, the numbers were higher with officials finding misconduct in 24 out of 105 investigations.

WWL-TV, Letten: 'We are strong. We will not be distracted,' Nov. 29, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten went on the record Thursday about the online ommenting scandal in his office. Letten addressed the issue at a luncheon in downtown New Orleans. "Your United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana is strong," Letten told members of the New Orleans Police and Justice Foundation. "We are focused. We are fully engaged and moving forward, only forward without missing a step." A bold statement from a man whose office is under fire. Earlier this month, Letten's then-First Assistant Jan Mann admitted to posting comments about ongoing investigations and newsmakers on a local news website. This spring, another former top prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned amid similar revelations. Letten first public statements since Mann's activities were outed in a defamation lawsuit, focused on restoring confidence in the work of his office. "Know this, neither I, nor this U.S. Attorney's Office will be distracted or deterred from fairly, aggressively, relentlessly investigating, pursuing and prosecuting those who violate our laws," said Letten. Despite the misconduct on his watch, Letten still had plenty of supporters in the room full of local law enforcers and business leaders.

WWL, Crisis of confidence in the U.S. Attorney? David Blake, Nov. 27, 2012. New questions are being raised about on-line postings made by two top prosecutors in U.S. Attorney Jim Letten's office.  Many of those questions come from a federal judge overseeing the cases of several former NOPD officers convicted in the Danziger Bridge shootings, who is considering whether anonymous online blogging by prosecutors could have impacted the case.  That federal judge has called for an independent investigation of former prosecutor Sal Perricone and current U.S. Assistant Attorney Jan Mann. The judge's request for a more thorough investigation is backed up by a watchdog group, the Justice Integrity Project, a group that says it monitors for problems and abuse of power in federal prosecutors' offices. Justice Integrity Project Executive Director Andrew Kreig tells WWL Morning show host Tommy Tucker he is worried any time the Justice Department is investigating itself. ''You've got a real crisis of confidence here in New Orleans, where people should take the extra step to help resolve the public's concerns,'' said Kreig. Listen to Tommy Tucker's interview with Kreig... Kreig said he is puzzled that First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann has not been suspended or fired after her recent admission to anonymously posting online comments.  Earlier this year, federal prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned after admitting to anonymously posting online, often about about active federal cases and investigations.

WWL-TV, Judge leaves door open to new trial for Danziger officers, Mike Perlstein, Nov. 26, 2012. The federal judge who presided over the Danziger Bridge trial during which five officers were convicted of civil rights violations, has left the door open for a new trial based on blog comments – and possible prosecutorial misconduct – by high ranking members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Following their convictions in the summer of 2011, Judge Kurt Engelhardt sentenced Sgt. Kenneth Bowen to 40 years in prison, Sgt. Robert Gisevius to 40 years, Officer Robert Faulcon to 65 years, and Officer Anthony Villavaso to 38 years. The fifth officer, Sgt. Archie Kaufman, was convicted of masterminding a cover-up. The judge sentenced him to six years in prison. The defendants' motion for a new trial is here.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann demoted after admitting online commentary, Gordon Russell, Nov. 8, 2012. Jim Letten demotes second-in-command, tries to quietly weather scandal. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten Thursday morning announced the demotion of his second-in-command, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann. The news came six days after landfill magnate Fred Heebe alleged in a civil suit that Mann had repeatedly used an online alias to slam him and other federal probe targets in comments posted on Mann's demotion marks the second high-profile takedown of a federal prosecutor engineered by Heebe, who in March unmasked Sal Perricone, the office's senior litigation counsel, as a prolific and intemperate online ranter.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, U.S. Attorney Jim Letten refuses specifics, begs patience in latest online scandal, John Simerman, Nov. 5, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten broke a three-day blackout on Monday over allegations that his second-in-command posted caustic, anonymous online barbs against federal targets and others -- but only to say he wasn't ready to discuss it. "Do not construe my delay in making a public statement about this matter to be silence," Letten said. / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 'Mencken1951' unmasked: It is federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, Staff report, March 15, 2012. U.S. Attorney Jim Letten confirmed this afternoon that Sal Perricone, one of his top prosecutors, has been using the handle "Henry L. Mencken1951" to bash landfill owner Fred Heebe and a raft of other local and national figures, including federal judges, in the comments section on Perricone "'readily admitted" using the pseudonym, and the matter has been referred to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, Letten said. "All our folks know commenting on ongoing cases are things you're not supposed to do," Letten said. / New Orleans Times-Picayune, 4 former officers convicted in Danziger case ask for new trial, saying prosecutors hid evidence, Brendan McCarthy, May 14, 2012. Attorneys for four former New Orleans police officers convicted recently in the Danziger Bridge shootings and cover-up are asking for a new trial, alleging that federal prosecutors hid evidence and relied on false testimony in the high-stakes case.

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

Sibel EdmondsThe American Conservative, Sibel Edmonds’s Secrets, Philip Giraldi, Nov. 23, 2012. Sibel Edmonds has recently written a book entitled Classified Woman detailing her journey from FBI translator to whistleblower, finally emerging as an outspoken advocate of free speech and transparency in government through her founding of the National Security Whistleblowers’ Coalition and her always informative Boiling Frogs Post website. As Edmonds ruefully notes, her tale of high level mendacity has always found a better reception in the European and Asian media than in the United States, though her odyssey has included an appearance on “60 Minutes” in October 2002 and a feature article in Vanity Fair called “An Inconvenient Patriot” in September 2005.

Two senators, Chuck Grassley and Patrick Leahy, became interested in her case early on and found her a credible witness, as did a U.S. Department of Justice IG’s report. She speculates that that her ostracism by the Fourth Estate, and also by congressmen who were ostensibly engaged in elevating government ethics, is due to the fact that both Republicans and Democrats were parties to the criminal behavior that she describes. In one particularly delicious account of high-level shenanigans, she recounts how an interview with Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform staff was stopped abruptly when a staffer asked her if any Democrats were involved. “We have to stop here and not go any further. We don’t want to know,” he intoned after she confirmed that the malfeasance was not strictly GOP.  I will not even try to reconstruct all the twists and turns that Edmonds describes in her 341 pages, but rest assured that she has the ability to surprise one with new revelations, even for readers like myself who have been following her case. Edmonds’s tale is basically about high-level incompetence at the FBI both before and after 9/11 -- including hiring translators who could not speak the language they were translating or who were former employees of the organizations being investigated, leading to deliberately falsified translations. 

Perhaps more disturbing, Edmonds describes a number of failures to appreciate significant intelligence that might have enabled the government to foil 9/11, all part and parcel of a pervasive underlying narrative of espionage and corruption by high level government officials, both appointed and elected. She names names at the bureau, in Congress, and also at the State Department and Pentagon. Editor's note: Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest. 

Legal Schnauzer, Financial Review of Mike Hubbard's Tenure As Party Chairman Stirs Up Discord In The Alabama GOP, Roger Shuler, Nov. 26, 2012. The Republican Party takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010 might have come with the aid of financial chicanery. A review of the party's finances during that time period has uncovered questionable transactions and led to discord in the state GOP hierarchy. Current chairman Bill Armistead ordered the review -- he calls it an audit -- focusing heavily on the actions of his predecessor, Mike Hubbard, now speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives. The review unearthed at least one instance where Hubbard appears to have used GOP dollars for his personal gain, according to a report last week at