The Justice Department has appointed a Georgia prosecutor to re-investigate whether the New Orleans U.S. Attorney’s office leaked information to influence perceptions of five police officers who were later convicted of shooting citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The appointment of John A. Horn, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Georgia, comes after U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt in New Orleans ordered a new investigation in the wake of an online commenting scandal that led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten today.
The Justice Department did not take the judge’s advice to appoint an outside counsel to review the leak allegations. Horn will report to Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the DOJ said.
The police officers were convicted in 2011 of multiple counts related to the fatal shootings on the Danziger Bridge following the 2005 storm. They have petitioned for a new trial, alleging that prosecutors were “engaged in a secret public relations campaign” to inflame public opinion against them.
In March prosecutor Sal Perricone resigned after he was unmasked as the person behind the online persona “HenryL.Mencken1951,” who had posted mocking comments about targets of federal prosecutors on nola.com, the website affiliated with the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper. Perricone was unmasked by lawyers for defendants in an unrelated federal corruption probe.
In the Danziger Bridge case, the allegations that prosecutors were conducting a secret PR campaign against the police officers were originally investigated and dismissed by Letten’s deputy, former First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jan Mann. But it has since emerged that Mann herself was making anonymous online comments about federal cases, apparently in cahoots with Perricone.
Judge Engelhardt strongly urged that DOJ appoint an independent counsel to re-investigate the matter, saying a probe by the department’s internal Office of Professional Responsibility would be a sham. “Having the DOJ investigate itself will likely only yield a delayed yet unconvincing result,” Engelhardt wrote.
He added that the “Perricone matter has been under investigation for eight months (since March), and yet it comes as a complete surprise to everyone at DOJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that another ‘poster’ exists, [ie: Mann], especially one maintaining as high a position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
Meanwhile, Cole — the department’s No. 2 official — was in New Orleans this morning, coordinating matters as Letten announced his resignation in a morning press conference.
Cole and Letten spoke with Sarah Vance, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, in addition to other judges in the district.