Defense begins case in trial of NOPD officer David Warren; judge removes juror for discussing case on social media

Judge removes juror for discussing case on social media

The question of exactly where a shot and bleeding Henry Glover collapsed on an Algiers street took center stage Friday in the civil-rights retrial of former New Orleans police officer David Warren.

With the defense calling its first witnesses, Warren’s attorneys sought to undermine the testimony of retired officer Linda Howard, a veteran cop who was with Warren at a strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005. She is the only witness who claims to have seen Warren shoot Glover.

She testified this week that after the rookie patrolman leveled his personal assault rifle and fired a single round from a second-story breezeway, she propped her face against the bars of a locked gate there, peered to her right and saw Glover run and then fall on Seine Street, just past the corner of Texas Drive.

It’s undisputed that Warren fired the shot that brought down Glover. But whether Howard could have seen Glover fall farther down the street remained in question, and Warren’s lawyers, hoping to chip away at Howard’s credibility, sought to show that Glover actually fell several houses down from that corner.

They called William Tanner, a passer-by who said he heard a shot, came upon the scene and then drove Glover, his brother, Edward King, and Glover’s friend, Bernard Calloway, to a police outpost at Habans Elementary School to get medical help for Glover.

Tanner said he found Glover lying face down over a manhole cover in the street. But just where the manhole cover was located came into dispute Friday.

Eyeing FBI photos, none of which clearly showed it, Tanner claimed the manhole was close to the corner — just a few feet from where Howard said she saw Glover drop.

Defense attorney Rick Simmons cast doubt on that claim, however, citing Tanner’s testimony at the 2010 trial, in which he placed the spot near a parked school bus that was up the block in the photos.

“It looked like where the school bus is at,” Tanner said then, according to Simmons.

Tanner insisted that he found Glover closer to the corner. To confuse matters, he said the two photos that flashed on a courtroom screen — from two different dates — had the bus parked in different places.

“Sir, it’s not that close to that school bus, I can tell you that,” he said of one photo. “Absolutely, that bus is way farther than that manhole cover.”

Tanner appeared on the third day of testimony in a retrial prompted by an appeals court ruling last year that overturned Warren’s conviction and 25-year prison sentence in Glover’s shooting. The appeals court ruled that Warren’s conviction was tainted by the evidence that was presented against four other officers concerning the burning of Glover’s body and a subsequent cover-up of the shooting.

Reined in by U.S. District Judge Lance Africk, federal prosecutors brought up nothing this time about the burning or the cover-up before resting their case on Thursday after less than two days. They called just eight witnesses.

Warren’s attorneys, seeking to chip away at Howard’s testimony, also called toxicologist William George to assess the effects that the antihistamine Benedryl might have had on her when she gave a vague statement about the incident to NOPD Sgt. Gerard Dugue in April 2009, more than three years after Warren fired on Glover.

In that taped interview, Howard offered few details but recalled hearing a vehicle pull up, calling for Warren and then standing back at the other end of the breezeway when Warren fired.

“We switched places. He came to the back, I went to the front,” she told Dugue.

“What happened over there?” she said she had asked Warren after he fired.

Howard later recanted that account, explaining that she had been taking Benedryl for swollen lips when Dugue questioned her, and also that she had suppressed memories of the incident. Howard said she had urged Dugue to put off the interview, but he insisted.

“I was sleepy. I was groggy. Some things I could remember, some things I couldn’t. I hadn’t thought about that situation in 31/2 years,” she testified on Wednesday.

After reviewing Howard’s medical records, George said the Benedryl wouldn’t have affected her ability to recall the shooting incident when questioned about it.

Based on the dosage and the time since she said she last took the drug, “there would be no likely or significant impairment,” he testified.

Howard has since offered a more vivid, though shifting, account under FBI questioning and in court testimony. She repeated Wednesday that she saw Warren shoot as Glover was running away.

Calloway, who had come to the rear parking lot of the strip mall with Glover in a stolen truck to retrieve some merchandise taken from a store there, testified Wednesday that Glover was standing by the truck, lighting a cigarette, just before he heard the shot.

Defense attorney Rick Simmons also questioned FBI Special Agent Ashley Johnson, the chief case agent for the Glover shooting, over a shift in Howard’s story about where she was standing when Warren fired his SIG Arms 550 assault rifle, outfitted with a magnified scope. Howard first told the FBI she was out on the balcony, but later revised her statement, saying she stood behind a locked gate in front of the balcony.

If that’s true, Warren’s attorneys argue, she couldn’t have seen Glover. But Johnson wasn’t biting.

“Isn’t it physically impossible to see the manhole cover ... from that position?” Simmons asked the agent.

“Sir, I can’t answer that question,” Johnson replied.

Africk called an early end to the testimony Friday. He told the jury he expected they will begin deliberating on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Earlier, Africk explained that he dismissed one of the jurors, a bus driver from St. John Parish, on Thursday for discussing the case on social media. The removal of the juror, a black male, leaves the panel with three black jurors, all women.

The case has unspoken racial overtones: Warren is white, while Glover was black, as is Howard, the officer who has questioned Warren’s decision to shoot.

Outside the courthouse, Tanner, who has been described as a good Samaritan for whisking Glover to the school for help, admitted to some ambivalence over getting involved.

His white Chevy Malibu is gone, burned up with Glover inside. He said he was beaten by police — an allegation this jury won’t hear.

Tanner also said he split with his wife over the drama after the storm, and now he doesn’t go out at night because he is scared of police.

“That’s the curse I took,” he said.

Asked if he regretted driving to where he heard a shot that day, Tanner stared at his shoes.

“I hesitate to answer that question,” he said. “My kids asked the same thing. I had to second-guess, but said I probably would have. I had to say probably.”