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Law and Disorder: After Hurricane Katrina

ProPublica | , A.C. Thompson | 8/15/2010, 11:22 a.m.

In New Orleans, New Evidence of a Beating by Police

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has uncovered evidence that police officers physically attacked two city residents and a working photojournalist on Sept. 1, 2005, three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

The story helps explain a mysterious scene we reported about last December in a joint project with the Times-Picayune and PBS' FRONTLINE, one of a series of reports documenting violent encounters between citizens and officers of New Orleans Police Department in the aftermath of Katrina.

So far this year, federal prosecutors have charged 16 current and former NOPD officers with crimes allegedly committed after the levees failed. Two others have been indicted in connection to the death of a man just before the catastrophe.

The latest news centers on a violent encounter that occurred on Religious Street, not far from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Responding to a shooting incident, officers severely beat two handcuffed men they suspected of firing at police, leaving one of the men missing numerous teeth, reports Times-Picayune city editor Gordon Russell.

It seems the officers had the wrong guys: According to Russell, the two men weren't armed, and police didn't have evidence to detain or jail them.

When Lucas Oleniuk, a photographer for the Toronto Star, began clicking off photos of the episode, he got caught up in the violence. Oleniuk says police hurled him to the ground, kicked him, and seized his cameras. The cops returned the equipment but pulled out a memory card containing the digital pictures the photographer had snapped.

The New Orleans Police Department has issued no official statement on the story, though a former captain who was present that day denied seeing any physical abuse.