Possible testimony of officers scrapped
In a stunning turn of events in the retrial of former police Officer David Warren for the killing of Henry Glover four days after Hurricane Katrina slammed New Orleans, federal prosecutors rested their case after less than two days of testimony and just eight government witnesses.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk sent the jury home before 2 p.m. Thursday after the surprise announcement by federal prosecutor Jared Fishman that he had no more witnesses to call.
Africk said he reserved the right to let the government reopen its case under “circumstances” that he said he had discussed with the attorneys in his chambers. He did not elaborate.
Warren’s defense team is expected to present its first witness Friday morning.
Warren’s attorneys, Julian Murray and Rick Simmons, said the decision by prosecutors was unrelated to any new rulings by Africk in the case. “It just went more quickly than we expected,” Murray said.
By resting, the government appears to be scrapping testimony by, among others, Sgt. Purnella Simmons, who first came to investigate after Warren fired his personal assault rifle at a suspected looter, and whose name appears on a December 2005 report that she later testified was altered as part of an alleged cover-up of the shooting. Simmons testified at the first trial of Warren and several other officers in 2010.
The government also has apparently decided to forgo testimony by Dr. Kris Sperry, chief pathologist for the state of Georgia. Sperry was expected to say Glover was shot in the back, based on evidence from Glover’s charred remains and photos of his bloodied body splayed out in the backseat of a white Chevy Malibu.
Fishman declined to discuss the government’s strategy, which is likely to shorten a trial that had been expected to run through next week.
Also Thursday, Africk dismissed one juror, a bus driver from St. John the Baptist Parish. The judge did not explain the removal, although the juror was seen nodding off during portions of the early testimony. He was replaced by a Chase bank employee who lives in Jefferson Parish. The removed juror was the only black man on the 12-member jury; the change leaves three black women.
Rebecca Glover, Henry Glover’s aunt, said she was suspicious of the truncated federal case, echoing a view she has repeated since an appeals court overturned Warren’s conviction last year. The court said the conviction was tainted by evidence of the burning and cover-up, in which he played no apparent role.
“Something is going on,” Rebecca Glover said after the jury had left. “That’s all I’d like to know, what it is. The fish stinks.”
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Rosenberg said the surprise move doesn’t bode too well for the prosecution. He noted, though, that the appeals court had estimated that a trial for Warren, standing on his own, would have lasted just three days the first time around, rather than the monthlong case involving five officers accused of various crimes.
Rosenberg said he doubts Warren’s attorneys will call many witnesses of their own, and he figures Warren won’t be one of them. He expects them to highlight the witnesses that the government did not call to the stand.
“I would be very surprised if they did not save that for their closing argument: ‘Where is Purnella Simmons, where is so-and-so?’ ” Rosenberg said. “You can talk about why witnesses weren’t called. Why didn’t the government call them? What does that tell you?”
Warren is charged with depriving Glover of his rights “under color of law” by shooting him without legal justification, and of unlawfully discharging a weapon in the commission of a violent crime.
The last prosecution witness, former police Officer Alec Brown, testified to riding with Warren and being worried about teaming with the then-rookie patrolman, who was wielding his personal assault weapon and had expressed a disdain for looters.
Warren “responded that looters were destroying the city. They were pretty much animals and they deserved to be shot,” Brown testified, He said Warren saw no difference between people snatching TVs and other merchandise from stores, and those seeking food and clothing to survive.
“I said. ‘That’s not right,’ ” Brown testified.
Earlier, former NOPD Officer Keyalah Bell wept on the witness stand as she recalled seeing a body in the backseat of a white car on Sept. 2, 2005, shortly after she was called out to the Algiers strip mall where Warren had fired a rifle shot at a man in the parking lot below.
Bell saw the body inside a white car at Habans Elementary School, where three men took Henry Glover for medical attention that he never got after Warren shot him.
At the time, Bell said, she didn’t completely connect the two incidents, but “had a feeling that it may have been related.” Still, she said nothing when she returned to the strip mall at Gen. de Gaulle and Texas drives and a woman approached asking about her shot brother.
Earlier that day, Bell had found a bloodied towel in the back parking lot of the strip mall while looking into the shot fired by Warren.
“I did not have the facts of who it was in the car, to send her off to go look for someone,” Bell testified. “I didn’t know who it was in the car. There was no one rendering aid, so once it came to someone being shot, an investigation would get done.”
But that didn’t happen until federal agents came knocking on her door three years later — the first time anyone interviewed her about what took place that day, Bell testified.
Initially, Bell failed to tell the agents about seeing the body in the car, then remembered it a few hours later and called back, she said.
“Just not wanting to remember, blocking out certain things,” she explained on the witness stand. “It had been many years where you just get traumatized having to look at it again and again and again and again,” she said.
“That night when they left, I started playing it back, all my memories, playing it piece by piece by piece, and I remembered seeing him.”
The accuracy of Bell’s story, along with that of Warren’s partner on the day of the shooting, Officer Linda Howard, has been targeted by Warren’s attorneys as they seek to cast doubt on allegations of an unjustified, malicious shot.
Federal prosecutors portray Warren as a renegade cop who considered looters as “animals” and used post-Katrina chaos as an excuse to fire on Glover.
With little physical evidence — thanks largely to that chaos and the later burning of Glover’s body, which is off-limits for discussion in Warren’s retrial — the prosecution’s case seems to hang largely on the testimony of the officers involved in the shooting incident or its immediate aftermath.
Bell was riding with Simmons when they responded to the call from the strip mall.
At the time of the shooting, Bell was a young officer with just a few months’ more experience than Warren. The day before, Bell and Warren had been teamed up to guard the same police substation in the shopping center. As he did on the day he shot Glover, Warren was carrying his SIG Arms 550 assault rifle with a magnification scope.
Bell said she found that odd.
“We weren’t authorized to carry those. I mean, why he had it, I’m not sure,” she said. “To me, it was strange.”
The next day, when Bell and Simmons arrived at the shopping center, a normally calm Howard — whom Bell called a friend — was “very hysterical,” Bell said.
Howard waved Bell off, telling her to talk with Warren.
“I walked over to Officer Warren,” Bell said. “He had this really calm demeanor, like nonchalant. Like, ‘I shot him.’ ”
“Shot at what? Shot at who?” she said she replied.
“It was like, ‘They were looting.’ ”
Earlier Thursday came testimony from a pair of police training academy officials who were there when Warren was being trained in 2004.
Robert Williams, the former commander of the academy, said Warren scored perfectly on his shooting test, firing 60 out of 60 shots within the designated area with a police-issued .40-caliber handgun.
Later, he scored near-perfect marks when qualifying with other weapons, though there was no testing for rifles such as the one Warren used to shoot Glover, Warren said.
Williams called the perfect score “not frequent, but it does occur.”
Before him, Officer Charles Badon described the use-of-force training that officers receive in the academy, including the use of deadly force, which he described as “always a last resort.”
“If there are any reasonable options that can be taken to avoid using deadly force, they should be taken,” Badon said. “The officer must believe he is in imminent danger at that precise moment and there’s no other way to defend himself except the use of deadly force.”
Rosenberg said it appears the government’s case against Warren is built on three prongs.
“One, his marksmanship. Two, the fact that other officers testified against him, including one (Howard) who was next to him. And three, the emotional aspect through family members and others,” Rosenberg said. “I’m not sure that carries them across the goal line.”
Africk has taken pains, following the appeals court ruling last year tossing out Warren’s 2010 conviction, to ensure that the jury doesn’t hear about how Glover’s body was burned inside a car on the Algiers levee, or who set it aflame; the alleged beating of the men who had taken Glover to the school; the cover-up that followed; and even the fact there was a first trial.
But that effort has proved difficult. Glover’s sister, Patrice, mentioned the alleged beating on Wednesday, while Bell mentioned the first trial in her testimony Thursday.