Is Time Running Out for Federal Investigations of NOPD?

The feds may run into time limits in prosecuting post-Katrina cop crimes.

By Julianne Hing Sep 07, 2010

The feds have been closing in on New Orleans’ misbehaving cops in recent months with investigations of the NOPD’s post-Katrina abuse, but there’s a possibility they may hit a snag on their way to bringing them to justice.

Laura Maggi reports for the Times-Picayune that two of the nine ongoing federal investigations of NOPD’s alleged misconduct may run up against an understood five-year statute of limitations. Maggi spoke with legal experts who said that it’s traditionally advisable for prosecutors to bring charges before a five-year anniversary, which has passed for two incidents of alleged post-Katrina misconduct. The local New Orleans office the Department of Justice has set up says all nine cases are open and ongoing.

The Department of Justice has indicted a total of eighteen New Orleans police officers for their alleged involvement in crimes that ranged from beating up and shooting innocent, unarmed civilians, to orchestrating elaborate multi-year cover-ups of their abuse. In the most high-profile incident, the police shot six people on the Danziger Bridge days after Hurricane Katrina. Eleven cops have been indicted for the shooting itself, and also for falsifying reports and lying to investigators in the intervening years. 

Of course, it’s not all on the Department of Justice. This is the third time the Danziger Bridge incident has been investigated. The NOPD’s internal investigators found no wrongdoing, and later, a state court threw out the case in 2008. The DOJ got involved after the state investigation fell apart.

Maggi reports that the five-year statute of limitations would likely only affect two cases, one involving the alleged beating of two men and another non-fatal shooting. Both incidents occurred on September 1, 2005.

As ColorLines reported last week though, cop accountability work takes many different forms, and the NOPD is engaged in a much more difficult longterm battle to reform itself.

While criminal prosecutions of the NOPD’s abusive cops are satisfying in the short-term, they are only the most high-profile and sensational work. The hard work of remaking a corrupt police department will continue long after the court cases have left the headlines.