New Orleans police steal cars, attack reporters

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into New Orleans, a new danger to human life and property has emerged: the New Orleans Police Department.

New Orleans police allegedly stole some 200 cars from a dealership well before Katrina even made landfall.

Doug Stead, president and general manager of the dealership, said the cars may have been taken before the hurricane even roared into town Aug. 29.

He said the cars included 88 new Cadillacs and Chevrolets, 40 used cars, 52 customers’ cars and a restored 1970 El Camino and 1966 Impala.

“We put the loss on new cars at $3.7 million,” he said. “The used cars ran another $900,000.”

When reports first surfaced last month that officers may have taken the cars, New Orleans Police Superintendent Warren Riley said it was not considered looting because the officers used the cars to patrol the city.

“There were some officers who did use Cadillacs,” he said. “Those cars were not stolen.”

Friday, police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said it was cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation.

Police are also investigating 12 officers for allegedly looting or failing to stop looting, and about 250 officers – roughly 15 percent of the force — could face discipline for leaving their posts without permission during Katrina and its aftermath. — Associated Press

And in more recent days, police beat a 64-year-old man and attacked a television cameraman on Sunday.

Two New Orleans police officers repeatedly punched a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication, and another city officer assaulted an Associated Press Television News producer as a cameraman taped the confrontations.

There will be a criminal investigation, and the three officers were to be suspended, arrested and charged with simple battery Sunday, Capt. Marlon Defillo said.

“We have great concern with what we saw this morning,” Defillo said after he and about a dozen other high-ranking police department officials watched the APTN footage Sunday. “It’s a troubling tape, no doubt about it. … This department will take immediate action.”

The assaults come as the department, long plagued by allegations of brutality and corruption, struggles with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resignation last month of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass.

The APTN tape shows an officer hitting the man at least four times in the head Saturday night as he stood outside a bar near Bourbon Street. The suspect, Robert Davis, appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers. One of the four then kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was face-down on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter.

Meanwhile, a fifth officer ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and the cameraman to stop recording. When Matthews held up his credentials and explained he was working, the officer grabbed the producer, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade.

“I’ve been here for six weeks trying to keep … alive. … Go home!” shouted the officer, who later identified himself as S.M. Smith. — Associated Press

Three officers in this case have been suspended and are now facing battery charges. They have entered not guilty pleas and will stand trial January 11.

Video is available from the Associated Press.

Update: The battery victim, Robert Davis, said Monday that he was not drunk at the time of the incident, and is “baffled” by the police action. “I haven’t had a drink in 25 years,” Davis told the Associated Press.

There are so many reports of police running amok in New Orleans, I hardly know what to do with them anymore.