Jury finds parish leaders not guilty of misconduct during Katrina

Feb. 6, 2014 at 1:45 PM
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GRETNA, La., Feb. 6 (UPI) -- A Louisiana jury says a former parish president is innocent of "willful misconduct" in ordering the evacuation of pump operators during Hurricane Katrina.

The jury also found that while Jefferson Parish government was negligent in acting on its so-called doomsday plan, the government was not responsible for the resultant flooding, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Thursday.

The doomsday plan, part of the parish's emergency operations policy, was developed by Jefferson Parish officials specifically to deal with the evacuation of parish employees in the event of a hurricane estimated at Category 4 or stronger. It has since been scrapped.

Parish President Aaron Broussard implemented the plan the day before Katrina hit the parish Aug. 29, 2005, ordering the evacuation of about 200 drainage workers to Mount Hermon in Washington Parish, two parishes to the north adjacent to the Mississippi state line, the newspaper said.

Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit charged flooding from the storm was caused because the evacuation left no workers to manage the pumps. Attorneys for the parish claimed the drainage system wasn't designed to handle a storm as strong as Katrina and that the pumps would have been ineffective against the tidal surge.

Dennis Phayer, the parish's lead attorney, told the jury during closing arguments that even if the doomsday plan was "a stupid plan, ill-conceived, wrong headed, bad idea ... it certainly does not rise to the level of willful misconduct."

He said the government could have guilty of willful misconduct if it had ordered drainage workers to stay at their stations and some of them died as a result.

One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Richard Martin, argued that no one thought the pump operators should have stayed at work during the storm, but that they should have been evacuated within the parish so they could work longer. Pump workers could have stayed at hospitals in Marrero and Metairie to which parish councilmen evacuated, he said.

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