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Police supervisor encouraged cover-up, knew officer planted gun while still on Danziger Bridge
By Laura Maggi, The Times-Picayune
February 24, 2010, 2:16PM
Lt. Michael Lohman, a supervisor who led the detective unit that first investigated the shooting of six people on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina, has been charged with one count of conspiring to obstruct justice in a bill of information that was unsealed today.
He is expected to plead guilty in a court hearing early this afternoon, after which U.S. Attorney Jim Letten has scheduled a press conference.
While on the Danziger bridge on Sept. 4, Lohman concluded that the shootings were not legally justified. He then assigned Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who is described but not named in the bill of information, to investigate the case.
The investigating officer, who is Kaufman, told Lohman that he planned to place a gun under the bridge, and Lohman "asked whether the investigator knew that the gun was 'clean,' meaning it could not be traced back to another crime." The investigator said it was, and "Lohman went along with the plan," the bill of information says.
In addition, Lohman signed off on a report that said the investigator found the gun under the bridge on Sept. 5, the bill of information says. In fact, the document says, Lohman was so "frustrated" with the implausibility of the initial report that he "personally drafted" a 17-page replacement that included "numerous false facts."
Six people were shot on the eastern New Orleans bridge on the morning of Sept. 4, 2005. Two men died, including one who was mentally challenged, while four others suffered serious wounds.
From just after the shooting, New Orleans police officials portrayed the incident as a gun battle between armed citizens and police officers. But the surviving victims told a very different story, saying they were not armed and were attacked by the officers, some who were carrying not only their .40 caliber handguns but personal weapons, including a shot gun and two AK-47s.
The fact that prosecutors have charged Lohman by bill of information -- which outlines the allegations against him in 11 pages -- is a strong indicator that he has signed a plea agreement and is cooperating with the federal government. Prosecutors can charge a defendant with a bill of information only when a defendant waives his right to a grand jury indictment.
The document was entered into the court record, under seal, on Feb. 3.
The document states that Lohman also suggested to two sergeants and the investigating officer "that they go back to the bridge to get rid of some of the shell casings" left behind by the officers.
The bill of information does not identify the sergeants or the investigator, but attorneys for two officers -- Sgt. Robert Gisevius and Kaufman -- have acknowledged their clients have received target letters in the federal probe. Gisevius fired his weapon several times at the scene and Kaufman performed the initial investigation.
The document goes on to say that through May 2009, Lohman conspired and agreed with other NOPD officers and supervisors to knowingly falsify a document with the intent to impede, obstruct and influence the investigation, to engage in misleading conduct, and to willfully make false statements and representations within the jurisdiction of the FBI.
Lohman, an NOPD supervisor, retired from the New Orleans Police Department on Feb. 1. His plea deal is the first indication that anyone with the NOPD is cooperating with federal investigators looking at a slew of post-Katrina police shooting incidents.
He appeared at 2 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Louis Moore, where he pleaded innocent. Lohman will then walk to U.S. Judge Ivan Lemelle's courtroom where he is expected to change his plea to guilty on the obstruction charge.
The Danziger Bridge shooting is probably the most publicly known post-Katrina police shooting, as prosecutors with the Orleans Parish district attorney's office led a grand jury investigation into the matter in 2006. Those grand jury proceedings resulted in indictments in Dec. 2006, charging the seven officers involved in the shooting with various murder and attempted murder charges. The federal probe has expanded beyond the shootings themselves, looking at the NOPD's investigation of their officers' actions.
Federal investigators are also looking into other officer-involved shootings committed in the week after Katrina devastated the city.
The seven police officers who arrived at the bridge -- transported by a Budget rental truck -- were responding to a radio call that two officers were in danger. An attorney for Gisevius, one of the officers who responded, noted that this kind of distress signal is a "high-risk" call to respond to.
"It raises your adrenaline, it automatically puts you in fear for your life," said Eric Hessler, Gisevius' attorney in an interview last week. "And when you are responding to that call in the midst of Katrina, when all kinds of misinformation is being given out, you are certainly going to be in a heightened state."
Lohman was the supervisor of Kaufman, a detective in the 7th District who conducted the initial probe. Kaufman, through an attorney, has acknowledged receiving a letter stating that he is a target of the investigation. He maintains his innocence.
Lohman signed off on the initial incident report written by Kaufman. Kaufman later teamed up with Sgt. Gerard Dugue, a "major case" detective who traditionally handled officer-involved shooting incidents, to write the supplemental investigation, which deemed the shooting justified.
That police report, obtained by The Times-Picayune, has been criticized by attorneys for the victims for relying almost entirely on the testimony of the involved officers. The report states that Lohman arrived at the scene at some point, but does not describe his involvement.