Ex-New Orleans officer enters guilty plea

Associated Press / March 12, 2010

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NEW ORLEANS — A second former New Orleans police officer pleaded guilty yesterday to covering up the deadly shooting of unarmed residents after Hurricane Katrina, with a judge calling the plot a “despicable’’ scheme that immeasurably compounded the storm’s damage.

Jeffrey Lehrmann, who left the Police Department in 2006 and is a special agent at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which means he had knowledge of a crime and didn’t report it. Another former officer pleaded guilty last month to a conspiracy charge.

A court filing yesterday outlines new details about the alleged coverup that followed the Sept. 4, 2005, shootings on the Danziger Bridge, which also led to a Justice Department investigation.

The filing says police fabricated two witnesses, kicked spent shell casings off the bridge weeks after the shooting, and held a secret meeting in a gutted-out police building to make sure officers who shot at unarmed civilians got their false stories straight before taping interviews.

The filing also reveals how police investigators carried out a plot to plant a gun to make it appear the shootings were justified.

Several weeks after the shooting, Lehrmann went to an unidentified investigator’s home, where the investigator retrieved a bag from a storage container in his garage.

“After the investigator assured the officers that the gun was ‘clean,’ they all went along with the plan to plant the gun,’’ the filing says.

The shootings initially were seen as a symbol of the confusion and lawlessness that followed in the weeks after Katrina hit — only to become a mark of shame on the Police Department once the coverup emerged.