A fourth member of the New Orleans Police Department was charged Friday in connection with a fatal shooting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Officer Robert Barrios was charged in a one-count bill of information filed in federal court in New Orleans. Barrios is charged with conspiring with other New Orleans police officers to obstruct justice by covering up the details of a police shooting incident.
A bill of information, rather than a grand jury indictment, often signals that the defendant is cooperating with the government and will plead guilty.
According to the court filing — based on investigations by the FBI and the Department of Justice — Barrios and other officers encountered a number of people walking across the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005 — about a week after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. According to the information, officers fired at the civilians, killing two and injuring four.
According to the Justice Department:
The bill of information charges Barrios with agreeing with other officers to obstruct justice during the investigations that followed the shooting. Specifically, it charges that Barrios and other officers discussed the stories that they would tell about what happened on the bridge and that, on Jan. 25, 2006, before the officers gave formal, audiotaped statements about the incident, they gathered with supervisors in an abandoned and gutted out building, where they again went over the stories they would tell on tape.
The bill of information alleges that the purpose of the conspiracy Barrios joined was to provide false and misleading information in order to ensure that the shootings would appear to be legally justified and that the involved officers would therefore be shielded from liability. The defendant faces a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Previously, three other former New Orleans police officers have pleaded guilty in connection with the cover-up.
The most recent of those pleas, on April 7, 2010, came just weeks after Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez visited New Orleans and declared himself “profoundly troubled” by the corruption in the police department. “One observation that’s inescapable is that the department has a litany of very, very serious challenges.”