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2005-10-03

Orleans Parish DA Eddie Jordan on Racial Stereotyping, Police Looting and Private Military Contractors

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We speak with the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Eddie Jordan about the grossly exaggerated reports of multiple murders and criminal mayhem in New Orleans in the days after hurricane Katrina hit. Jordan says, "I’m pleased that there was very little bloodshed, but it seems to me that the national media outlets had an obligation to verify the charges [of violence] being made by some of the evacuees and some of the public officials." [includes rush transcript]

Last week a flurry of news reports came out showing that earlier news reports of multiple murders and criminal mayhem in the days after Katrina hit, were exaggerated and may have hampered rescue efforts in New Orleans. Gruesome rumors of killings and rapes at the Superdome and the Convention Center and reports of roving gangs looting and terrorizing tourists, flew in the chaos of those first days. Local officials like Mayor Ray Nagin and the former Police

Commissioner Eddie Compass repeated those rumors to television news outlets, while Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco instituted a shoot-to-kill policy. All of this seemed to confirm these reports. As it turns out the Coroner’s office, which, has conducted autopsies on the 650 bodies recovered in the city so far, has only seen seven victims of gun shot wounds. And Nagin and the police department have admitted that they were repeating unsubstantiated information.

  • Eddie Jordan, District Attorney of Orleans Parish. He is the first African-American D.A in New Orleans.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We were joined on the phone right now from Louisiana by the District Attorney of Orleans Parish, Eddie Jordan. Welcome to Democracy Now!

EDDIE JORDAN: Thank you. Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Eddie Jordan, District Attorney, is the first African American District Attorney in the area. Your response to this information that came out?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I was saddened to learn that the allegations of massive bloodshed in the Superdome were exaggerated by media outlets. I’m — actually, I’m pleased that there was very little bloodshed, but it seems to me that the national media outlets had an obligation to verify the charges being made by some of the evacuees and some of the public officials.

AMY GOODMAN: How did this happen? I mean, it had such a tremendous effect: The Red Cross not going in, saying they’re afraid; the reports in the Superdome and the Convention Center. When did you start to get a sense that this was urban myth or on a national scale perhaps just your traditional racist stereotyping?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I didn’t get a sense that there was a large element of exaggeration until I visited the morgue’s office. And I was fully expecting that there would be many, many bodies associated with violence and also many children who would have died as a result of violence. And I expected there to be a number of killings both at the Convention Center and the Superdome.

And I asked the coroner and some of his employees about those allegations and the information that they had received in connection with their receipt of the bodies from New Orleans in the days immediately after the storm, and I was shocked to learn that there were only two bodies that were associated with the Convention Center and the Superdome, and actually that was one apiece. And then there were only two other bodies associated with violence in the days immediately after the storm. So, that was a total of four, and that was clearly inconsistent with the reports that I had seen on television.

AMY GOODMAN: And the effect of it being the mayor, Ray Nagin, and the police chief in the area, Compass, that were repeating this, people who would be the closest to the story, who you would think would know?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, frankly, I didn’t know that either the mayor or the police chief had made similar charges. I learned that later on, but my focus was really on what the — some of the major reporters were saying, and I now believe that they were simply passing on information that they had received from other sources, but there was no substantiation, no proof, no evidence to support these claims.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Jordan, we’d like to ask you to stay on with us for 60 seconds as we break, and we’ll come back and continue this discussion. And we thank you for bearing with us with the announcement of the new — well, the nomination of the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers. Eddie Jordan is with us, District Attorney of Orleans Parish.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Eddie Jordan, District Attorney of Orleans Parish. We are asking him about the myths that were put out at the time of the hurricane of the looting, of the killing, of the rapes, and yet when he actually looked into it, again Eddie Jordan, the number you have at this point?

EDDIE JORDAN: Yes. The number is four bodies in the time period immediately after the storm. Apparently there were some other gunshot victims, but those, I think, have occurred perhaps several weeks after the storm.

AMY GOODMAN: Looking at the piece in the Wall Street Journal on Friday that says some of the most spectacular looting, the sacking of the Wal-Mart in the Lower Garden District and the summary emptying of the Office Depot uptown appear to have been initiated not by organized bands of thieves, but police and city hall bureaucrats intent on securing supplies. Your response?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I have no reason to believe that at this point in time. I have no evidence to support that claim, and I think that unfortunately, in a situation like we have in New Orleans where there is — there was a certain amount of hysteria in the period immediately after the storm, it is difficult to substantiate many claims that are made by individuals. There is an investigation, however, of looting by police officers, alleged looting, and if, in fact, that is substantiated, and there are no exigent circumstances that would justify taking of property, then those persons will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you handed down any — have there been indictments handed down at this point? Are you working on them?

EDDIE JORDAN: No, there have not been any indictments at this time, but the investigation just began last week. There’s an internal investigation being conducted by the police department, and my experience with those internal investigations is that they are fairly thorough. In fact, they have been very thorough in the past. And, of course, if there’s a need for additional investigation, my office will do that and make its own independent assessment of whether police officers broke the law, and then there is also another investigation being conducted by the Louisiana Attorney General’s office. And my office is monitoring that investigation. We expect to receive the findings of the Louisiana Attorney General and make a determination whether charges are appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there a link between the reports of looting and the resignation of the city’s Police Superintendent, Eddie Compass?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I would only be speculating if I said that. The public statements were simply that he had personal reasons for leaving, and I guess we’ll just have to accept it at that until we hear — until I hear directly from someone indicating that there were reasons — other reasons for his resignation.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Eddie Jordan. He’s the Orleans Parish District Attorney. The effect of the looting rumors was tremendous, aside from the smear of a population. Again, reading from the Wall Street Journal, "Senior government officials now say one major reason for the delay in," you know, "getting disaster aid was that they believed they had to plan for a far more complicated military operation rather than a straight-ahead relief effort," and then saying, "For the Federal Emergency Management Agency, rumors of lawlessness simply delayed on-the-ground relief efforts and turned even routine errands into a cumbersome exercise. One official who was posted at the Superdome said federal rescuers and doctors were required to secure armed escorts even for short trips across the street."

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I do believe that there was looting, and I think that in some parts of the city, that looting was extensive. I have seen evidence of the looting, and frankly, I’m shocked at the level of looting that took place in some of the neighborhoods and in the business district, in particular. And I note that the kinds of items, in a number of instances, that people were looting were not the kind of thing that one would associate with necessities for the circumstances, food, water, and clothing. That truly saddens me, and I’m sure it saddens many law-abiding citizens in the city of New Orleans. But there, of course, there were people who were looking for food. And I think that that is a different situation, people who were looking for food and water.

AMY GOODMAN: What role do you think race played in the false reports?

EDDIE JORDAN: You know, it’s difficult to say. I think that there are stereotypes of black and poor people, and some of these images fed into those stereotypes, and I have heard of stories of different characterizations of looting by blacks, as opposed to white looting. And that is — that’s hard to reconcile with anything other than a kind of racial stereotype or racist perspective on the activity. If persons are looting, if they’re stealing things that shouldn’t or could not be used during a storm, it doesn’t — it shouldn’t matter whether that person is black or white, and of course, if the person is stealing food, during that time period, it seems to me that there should be a certain amount of compassion for a person who is simply taking food.

AMY GOODMAN: Eddie Jordan, I wanted to ask you about the report of what happened on an overpass, where we heard that a number of people, five people, were killed. Democracy Now! correspondent, Jeremy Scahill was down in New Orleans and was particularly investigating the role of Blackwater there, writing, "Within two weeks of the hurricane, the number of private security companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to 235, some, like Blackwater, under federal contract. Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F. Patrick Quinn, III, who brought in private security to guard his $3 million private estate and luxury hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative federal contract with FEMA.

"A possibly deadly incident involving Quinn’s hired guns underscores the dangers of private forces policing American streets. On his second night in New Orleans, Quinn’s security chief, Michael Montgomery, who said he worked for an Alabama company called Bodyguard and Tactical Security, BATS, was with a heavily-armed security detail en route to pick up one of Quinn’s associates and escort him through the chaotic city. Montgomery told me," Jeremy Scahill writes, "they came under fire from black gangbangers on an overpass near the poor Ninth Ward neighborhood.

"Montgomery recalled, 'At the time I was on the phone with my business partner, I dropped the phone and returned fire.' Montgomery says he and his men were armed with AR-15s and glocks and that they unleashed a barrage of bullets in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the overpass. He said, 'After that, all I heard was moaning and screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough said.' And then he says, Montgomery says, 'The army showed up yelling at us and thinking we were the enemy. We explained we were security. I told them what had happened, and they didn't even care. They just left.’"

And he says, "Five minutes later, Montgomery says Louisiana state troopers arrived on the scene, inquired about the incident and then asked him for directions on how they could get out of the city. Montgomery says no one ever asked him for any details of the incident, and no report was ever made." Your response to this, and are you investigating this shooting on the bridge?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, the District Attorney’s office responds to claims of criminal activity by way of reports submitted by the police department or other law enforcement officials. We have not received any report of the kind that you have described, and so it would be impossible for us to act on this without some information from some law enforcement source. And that’s the first time that I have heard of this. You know, there have been lots of stories of that kind, but just very little proof that these things have taken place. And I think what complicates things at this point in time is that many of the persons who observe these alleged incidents are scattered throughout the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: We did, though, see this A.P. report that I’m sure you have heard of of the shooting on the bridge of five people. Have you heard about that, and is there any investigation into that, whether it involves security forces or not?

EDDIE JORDAN: I haven’t received any reports of that kind, and, of course, if I receive the report, I would be more than happy to take a look at it, to thoroughly investigate it with all of the resources that we have available. I would call upon other law enforcement agencies to help us in investigating the matter. But at this point in time, it’s just a story. It could very well be the truth, but it could be an urban myth, as well. I haven’t received any evidence to support a gun battle of that kind. We just — at this point in time, I just haven’t heard about numbers of individuals — large numbers of individuals with gunshot wounds who obviously were in a battle of some kind. And as you indicated earlier, there were only seven gunshot wound victims in the storm period. So, that’s not really consistent with that kind of battle that was described.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the role of these security companies? What supervision is there? What are the laws for companies like Blackwater, etc., going into a situation like this?

EDDIE JORDAN: Well, I can’t say all the laws. I’m not familiar with all of the laws that govern private security firms, but, you know, this was a special set of circumstances in the period immediately after the storm, so I think that people certainly have a right to protect their homes and their property. I just don’t know whether this incident occurred the way that it — that the person claims that it occurred. I have heard other stories of gun battles, and —- but if that happened, then where are the people who got shot? If it was that kind of gunfire, you would expect at least there to be some casualties. And none of the security people apparently have been shot. Well, I did hear stories of one or two police officers being shot, but -—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the report we had on September 4, it said "Police shot and killed at least five people Sunday after gunmen open fire on a group of contractors traveling across a bridge on their way to make repairs, authorities said."

EDDIE JORDAN: I’m familiar with that, and that is substantiated, and that did occur.

AMY GOODMAN: And were five people killed?

EDDIE JORDAN: I understood that number to be a little smaller than that, maybe three or four.

AMY GOODMAN: The Deputy Police Chief, W.J. Riley, said killing five or six, going over Danziger Bridge.

EDDIE JORDAN: I have heard different numbers on that, but I haven’t heard of any other confrontations where individuals were killed by armed security in New Orleans.

AMY GOODMAN: And is that being investigated, this last — that shooting?

EDDIE JORDAN: The other matter has not — the investigation has not been initiated at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question, because we only have 15 seconds, and that is, prisons. Where have the prisoners gone? Human Rights Watch saying there are more than 500 prisoners who are unaccounted for from the last docket before the hurricane to the one — the number count after? We have ten seconds.

EDDIE JORDAN: The prisoners are all over the state of Louisiana. Many of them were incarcerated for heinous crimes. And we hope to prosecute those people to the full extent of the law.

AMY GOODMAN: And those that are missing?

EDDIE JORDAN: I don’t know about any stories of missing prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ll have to leave it there. We thank you very much, Eddie Jordan, District Attorney of New Orleans.

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