Sometimes—though certainly rarely–solid investigative journalism catches the attention of law enforcement authorities and leads to justice. A remarkable case comes out of New Orleans this week. The New York Times reports:
A federal grand jury charged five police officers Friday in connection with the shooting death of a civilian in the days after Hurricane Katrina. An 11-count indictment against the officers revealed a sequence of events that led to the body of Henry Glover, 31, being found burned in an abandoned car. The killing occurred Sept. 2, 2005, four days into the flooding of the city, in the Algiers neighborhood on the west bank of the Mississippi River, according to the indictment. David Warren, a police officer at the time, was charged with shooting Mr. Glover with an assault rifle.
Mr. Warren was arrested by federal agents on Friday after the indictment was returned. Mr. Glover, who was bleeding to death, was picked up by William Tanner, a stranger, who said he drove him to an elementary school that was being used as temporary headquarters for a police special-operations unit, one that was later hailed as heroic for its hurricane rescue efforts. There, Mr. Tanner has said, he was beaten by police officers and his car was seized, with Mr. Glover inside. Mr. Tanner left the city but returned weeks later, he said, and found his car, with the remains of Mr. Glover inside, burned and parked on a levee behind a police station.
The indictment can be examined here. As the Times notes, the essential breaks that led to this prosecution were developed by an exposé journalist, A.C. Thompson, whose work appeared in a shocking piece in The Nation called “Katrina’s Hidden Race War.” Thompson used three separate eyewitness accounts to fully develop the facts surrounding Glover’s death, and his article documents a significant number of additional incidents suggesting racially motivated violence—some of it lethal—by New Orleans police officers during the anxious days immediately following Katrina. Thompson concluded his piece with these words:
On my final visit to Algiers Point, I stand on Patterson Street, my notebook out, interviewing a pair of residents in the dimming evening light. An older white man, on his way home from a bar, strides up and asks what I’m doing. I reply with a vague explanation, saying I’m working on an article about the “untold stories of Hurricane Katrina.” Without a pause, he says, “Oh. You mean the shootings. Yeah, there were a bunch of shootings.” When I share with Donnell Herrington what the militia men and Algiers Point locals have told me over the course of my investigation, he grows silent. His eyes focus on a point far away. After a moment, he says quietly, “That’s pretty disturbing to hear that–I’m not going to lie to you–to hear that these guys are cocky. They feel like they got away with it.”
But today’s news offers a correction: perhaps not all of them will “get away with it.”
When Thompson’s piece appeared in December 2008, it garnered only modest media attention. In the view of several media commentators, the accusations it leveled were “disturbing” but “unsubstantiated.” In fact, everything Thompson wrote was rigorously documented. This was just the sort of news that major broadcast media didn’t want to be associated with—around this time they were too busy with more important things, like spreading stories about ACORN that later proved to be completely unfounded, even as they put the community advocacy organization out of business.
Kudos to A.C. Thompson for timely reporting that mattered.