NEW ORLEANS — On a brisk January morning in 2007, seven New Orleans police officers waded through a crowd of cheering supporters outside the city's jail to face charges stemming from a deadly encounter with residents on a bridge in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. Before they were booked, the grim-faced officers accepted hugs and handshakes from fellow cops who shouted, "Heroes! Heroes!"
Three of the officers who received the hero's welcome have admitted they were concealing a dark secret the day they surrendered.
Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios and Ignatius Hills, members of the so-called Danziger Seven — named after the bridge where police shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others — admitted participating in a coverup.
The other four members of the so-called Danziger Seven and another police investigator go on trial today on federal charges.
One officer is accused of fatally shooting a mentally disabled man in the back before a sergeant stomped on him. Prosecutors say the same sergeant, armed with an assault rifle, fired on wounded and unarmed people lying on the ground. All are accused of participating in a coverup that allegedly included a plot to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.
The group was charged in state court with murder or attempted murder in December 2006, but a judge threw out all the charges in August 2008. Federal authorities then began their own investigation a month later, which led to charges against the Danziger Seven and four others.