Ex-NOPD officer’s memory key to testimony

Howard was partner of Warren during fatal shooting

It took years of gruesome memories bubbling up as Linda Howard nodded off to sleep for the former New Orleans police officer to recall exactly what had happened the day rookie officer David Warren leveled his personal assault rifle and fired on Henry Glover from a perch above the back parking lot of an Algiers strip mall, Howard testified Wednesday.

At first, the Sept. 2, 2005, shooting weighed heavily on the mind of the New Orleans Police Department veteran, who retired last year.

“At nighttime I would sit up and look out the window upstairs with my weapon, just in case anyone wanted to come in, because I was fearful because I had witnessed a shooting. I didn’t know who I could trust and who I couldn’t trust,” Howard said Wednesday in federal court.

“I’m telling you, I blocked out the incident, as far as a survival mode, in order to do what I had to do.”

Her explanation did little to blunt a heavy attack from Warren’s attorneys over a raft of conflicting statements that Howard has given over the years in the case, including during the first trial over the shooting three years ago.

Her full-blown account includes hearing Warren shout a warning to Glover and a friend, Bernard Calloway, from a second-story breezeway, then seeing Warren fire through the bars of a locked gate as Glover ran away.

Glover and Calloway had pulled up to the parking lot, breaking the silence of an eerily quiet day in a neighborhood nearly emptied by Hurricane Katrina. They had come in a stolen pickup to grab merchandise stolen by two women friends from a store and left in a shopping cart behind the shopping center on Gen. de Gaulle Drive in Algiers.

With food and drinkable water running short, Calloway said, their plan was to grab the goods and drive as far as they could. What they didn’t know was that an officer with an assault rifle was perched on the second floor.

“When I heard screeching tires, I looked back and I saw a truck had pulled up,” Howard testified. “I alerted Officer Warren and told him that someone was back there. I proceeded to the back gate and (saw) two gentlemen, they jumped out of the vehicle and ran to ... get the items. Officer Warren yelled something. Something like ‘Police!’ ”

“I heard the shot fired,” she said. “He shot right by my right ear. I saw him lower the weapon and fire in the direction that the gentleman was running in. Shortly after, the gentleman collapsed in the street.”

Warren’s defense team hammered at that account on the first day of testimony in the retrial of a civil-rights case alleging that Warren shot Glover without justification “under color of law.”

One of Warren’s attorneys, Rick Simmons, demanded Howard explain earlier statements in which, at various points, she had said she was at the other end of a breezeway that cuts front-to-back through the strip mall when Warren fired, that she couldn’t remember key details of the shooting, and that she saw Glover collapse from a rear balcony that she now insists was blocked by a locked gate.

“That’s ‘Flashback Linda,’ ” defense attorney Julian Murray repeatedly told the jury in his opening statement to the jury.

Howard’s three-plus hours of testimony figure to loom large in the case, in which the jury so far has heard nothing about the later burning of Glover’s body or the police cover-up that followed.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk has been careful to steer clear of that evidence, and he directed the jury on Wednesday to ignore testimony from Glover’s sister, Patrice Glover, describing the alleged beatings of the men who brought her dying brother to a makeshift emergency center at nearby Habans Elementary School after the shooting.

An appeals court last year overturned Warren’s conviction and 25-year prison sentence over Glover’s killing, saying it was tainted by evidence against the four other officers who also faced charges in a joint trial.

Africk is allowing the jury to see only one picture of Glover’s shot-up and not yet burned body. Both sides were still arguing over whether any mention of Glover’s burning will be allowed into evidence.

Howard was the only witness to allegedly see Warren, an expert marksman, fire his personal, .223 caliber SIG Arms 550 rifle, which an assistant U.S. attorney said was outfitted with a “magnification red-dot scope.”

Howard denied Warren’s claim that Glover and Calloway were charging toward an unlocked, ground-floor gate, and that one of the men held something in his hand that Warren feared was a weapon.

“They didn’t have anything in their hands,” Howard testified. “I didn’t see them as a threat. They knew what their mission was: Get out of the truck, get the stuff that was in the basket and leave.”

But while Howard claimed her memory of the incident is now solid, she struggled to explain her vague and conflicting recollections when questioned in 2009 by NOPD Sgt. Gerard Dugue, and again by a federal grand jury, and yet again when the feds came looking for answers.

Howard, for instance, recalled hearing someone shout, “The policeman shot my brother!” But she told a grand jury that the person shouted, “The policeman shot my son!”

Howard couldn’t seem to recall what she said when.

“It doesn’t really matter if it was a son or a brother. It was still, the police shot someone. The police shot,” she said, growing defiant.

“Did you tell the grand jury you were out on the balcony” Simmons asked.

“I don’t know. I can’t tell if it was this statement or that statement.”

Howard, who had met Warren only that day and was reluctant to team with him, said she grew concerned when Warren fired earlier that day in the direction of a lone man seen roaming in front of the strip mall, then responded nonchalantly when she asked why he had fired.

“He said he just wanted to see something,” she said. “We didn’t say too much after that. I didn’t know where his mindset was at.”

Warren’s state of mind will be a central focus of the trial, which is slated to run through next week.

Howard’s testimony followed that of Calloway; one of the female friends who stole the goods; and Patrice Glover, who wept on the stand as she recalled running outside to find her brother shot, bleeding and lying face down in the street.

“I said, ‘Hold on, brother, I’m gonna get you some help,’ ” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Murray portrayed Warren as a man jarred by citywide lawlessness and staring down possible death from a pair of charging looters when he fatally shot Glover. Prosecutors, however, said the evidence is clear that Glover was fleeing when Warren fired.

The earlier warning shot, toward a man more than 100 yards away, “was a good thing to do. It wasn’t a bad thing to do,” Murray said, though he conceded it violated NOPD policy.

“He didn’t do it to be evil. He did it to warn him, to let him know, ‘Look, we’re up here, we’re armed, don’t do something stupid.’ ”

Murray painted Warren as a “God-fearing” man who stayed behind to protect the city, though he could have left with his wife and five children.

“The last thing he thought before firing his shot was, ‘I’ll never see my little boy again,’ ” Murray said. “And just before (Glover) got through that gate, he raised his rifle and he shot. It was not intentional. It was not premeditated. It was not something he thought through. It was a reaction, because he thought he was going to be killed.”

Prosecutors offered jurors a different portrait, arguing that Warren saw looters as “animals who deserve to be shot” when he gazed into the rifle scope, taking the hurricane as an opportunity to fire on a retreating Glover.

It was Calloway who heard Glover’s last words.

“He was holding his chest,” Calloway said. “He told me to just tell his mom that he loves her.”