NEW ORLEANS, April 7 (UPI) -- A former New Orleans police officer pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges stemming from the Danziger Bridge shootings after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a release Michael Hunter, 33, of Slidell -- who was a New Orleans officer until last week -- pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to obstruct justice and failing to report a crime in the federal investigation into the case.
Two people were shot to death and four others wounded at the bridge as they tried to flee the city in the days after the 2005 hurricane. The police maintained they fired at the civilians in self-defense, after the civilians fired at them but Hunter is the third officer to admit a role in a police coverup of unjustified shootings.
"In times of disaster, we look to our law enforcement officers to protect public safety and keep the peace," Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division," said in a statement. "Today, this former (New Orleans Police Department) officer has admitted that amidst the devastation that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina he watched fellow officers shoot unarmed civilians. And, he admitted covering up about what they did."
In a court filing, Hunter admitted driving to the bridge Sept. 4, 2005, in a large rental truck carrying officers responding to a radio call that other officers were under fire. Hunter said officers fired at civilians who didn't appear to be armed. He said one officer, referred to only as Sergeant A, leaned over a concrete barrier and fired an assault rifle repeatedly in a sweeping motion at the civilians, who were lying wounded and apparently unarmed on the ground.
Hunter admitted he fired his weapon repeatedly at apparently unarmed civilians running away over the bridge.
He said he was on the west side of the bridge when an officer, identified only as Officer A, without warning used to a shotgun to fatally wound an unarmed civilian in the back as he was running from officers with his hands in view. Hunter said he saw Sergeant A physically abuse the victim as he lay on the ground, injured but still alive.