FIVE DAYS after Hurricane Katrina leveled the Gulf Coast in 2005,New Orleans police officers responded to what turned out to be false reports that a fellow officer had been shot. Arriving at the Danziger Bridge on the city’s east side, they jumped from their vehicles and opened fire on two groups of unarmed civilians. When the officers’ barrage was finished, two men were dead and four were badly wounded.
The 2011 conviction of five of the officers was a victory for federal prosecutors and, more important, for justice in a city where it often has been elusive and subverted. That’s why a federal judge’s decision last week to vacate those convictions is a dereliction of justice far greater than the prosecutorial abuses he cited in his order.
In throwing out the officers’ convictions, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt said he did not take such an action lightly. He paid lip service to the sanctity of the jury’s 2011 verdict, the considerable cost of the original trial and a new one (if it becomes necessary) and the immense emotional toll already sustained by the victims, the defendants and their families.