DOJ’s “Grotesque Prosecutorial Misconduct” Upends Civil Rights Convictions
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A federal judge blasted the Obama Justice Department, blaming “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct” for overturning the convictions of five Louisiana cops in what the administration considered one of the region’s most important civil rights cases.
In 2011 five officers from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) were convicted of civil rights violations for their role in fatal shootings at the Danziger Bridge. The city was in chaos after Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest natural disasters in U.S. history, slammed into the area in 2005. Civil unrest broke out in the storm’s aftermath and the city transformed into a war zone filled with violent crime and looting.
In fact, the national media reported that fights and trash fires broke out at a makeshift shelter created at a football stadium and rescue helicopters were shot at. The National Guard was brought in with armored vehicles to restore order on what one mainstream media outlet called a “lawless city.” Here’s an excerpt of the story: “An additional 10,000 National Guardsman from across the country were ordered into the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast to shore up security, rescue and relief operations in Katrina’s wake as looting, shootings, gunfire, carjackings spread and food and water ran out.”
In the midst of all this the NOPD received radio reports that cops were being fired upon at the Danziger Bridge, where large, rowdy crowds congregated. The officers were accused of gunning down unarmed people and were charged in state court. The feds took over when the state case fell apart for procedural reasons and a judge dismissed the charges, according to a local newspaper that’s covered the story closely. Then U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was in charge and top Department of Justice (DOJ) officials from Washington D.C. were also heavily involved. Attorney General Eric Holder even held a press conference to “applaud” Letten’s “great work” in the case.
But federal prosecutors became embroiled in a scandal after being exposed for posting inflammatory comments about the case on a local newspaper’s website. Among those busted were federal prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, as well as a veteran trial attorney at the DOJ’s bloated civil rights division in Washington D.C., Karla Dobinski. It turns out Letten knew about the wrongdoing and took no action, according to legal documents.
Citing the prosecutorial misconduct, the convicted cops’ lawyers asked for a retrial and this month U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt granted it in a scathing 129-page order that blasts the Obama DOJ. The “egregious and inflammatory” comments by at least three DOJ officials using a variety of online identities fueled a “21st century carnival atmosphere” that tainted the trial and requires a new one, the judge wrote, calling it “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct.”
Judge Engelhardt continued lambasting the DOJ writing that “the publication by DOJ employees of inflammatory invectives, accusatory screeds, and vitriolic condemnations, both directly and by the express encouragement of others to do the same, should confound and alarm any reasonable observer of the criminal justice process.” The judge goes on to cite a measure that specifically orders DOJ personnel to “strenuously avoid furnishing any statement or information” during the period approaching and during trial that could “reasonably be expected to influence the outcome of a pending or future trial.”
In other words, federal prosecutors have a duty to take the high road, to try cases in the courtroom based on evidence not gossip in the media. “Clearly, the campaign of Senior Litigation Counsel AUSA Perricone, along with the online aiding and abetting of Washington D.C., DOJ attorney Dobinski, violates this regulation and the other rules set forth herein,” the order says. The trashing continues: “The government’s actions and initial lack of candor and credibility thereafter, is like scar tissue that will long evidence infidelity to the principles of ethics, professionalism and basic fairness and common sense necessary to every criminal prosecutor, wherever it should occur in this country,” Judge Engelhardt writes.