A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to reopen its investigation of the source of leaks during the deadly Danziger Bridge case, as concerns of prosecutorial misconduct continue to cloud the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s office, according to a report by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in New Orleans did not hold back criticism in his ruling Monday, saying “prosecutorial misconduct in this case is a very near and present thing.” The issue arose during the federal probe of the Danziger Bridge shooting, a deadly incident in which New Orleans Police officers shot innocent city residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A subsequent cover-up by others in the police department prompted a major investigation and eventual overhaul of the police department.
The leaks case began after unnamed sources were quoted in 2010 Associated Press and New Orleans Times-Picayune news reports saying that former police Lt. Michael Lohman was expected to plead guilty in the cover up of the bridge shooting. Lohman eventually did plead guilty and received four years in prison. Four other former New Orleans Police Department officers pleaded guilty and five others were convicted at trial in the shooting and cover-up, the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes.
Engelhardt took issue with the initial leaks investigation because prosecutors did not question the “media recipients” of the information about Lohman’s plea. In addition, it included a report submitted by former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann, who was recently demoted after admitted to posting critical online comments about federal cases. That report must now be redone, given the recent revelations, the judge ordered.
Mann told Englehardt that she did not follow NOLA.com comments before a colleague, Sal Perricone, was revealed as a prolific commenter at NOLA.com, the Times-Picayune’s website. Perricone resigned earlier this year after he admitted to posting hundreds of disparaging comments about defense attorneys and defendants, among others, involved in federal cases, some of which he was supervising.
The judge said an independent counsel should be appointed to look into both Perricone’s and Mann’s behavior, the Associated Press reported.
“First of all, having the DOJ investigate itself will likely only yield a delayed yet unconvincing result in which no confidence can rest,” the judge wrote.
This is the latest flogging of the U.S. Attorney’s office in New Orleans, which is headed by longtime U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) said they were troubled by the revelations that Letten’s longtime lieutenant had also been a part of the comment scandal.