Protesters flood office, demand new ruling
Henry Glover’s family members and a swarm of protesters jostled their way into the lobby of the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office on Monday, demanding justice in the form of a one-word change to Glover’s death certificate.
Their ultimatum — for Coroner Frank Minyard to switch Glover’s death from “undetermined” to “homicide” — doesn’t seem to warrant much dispute. No one, including former New Orleans police Officer David Warren, disagrees that Warren fatally shot Glover with his personal assault rifle at an Algiers strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005. The question is not whether it was a homicide, but whether it was justifiable.
Glover’s family and other critics of the investigation of his death have been down this road before, leaving empty-handed after urging Minyard to acknowledge a homicide. So they drove and marched down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on a cool morning to Minyard’s spare, cramped office, loaded for bear.
Glover’s family wore white T-shirts with crimson letters that read, “I Am Henry Glover,” hoping a change in the classification of his death would lead to a new state murder charge against Warren, who was acquitted last week in federal court of violating Glover’s civil rights by shooting him.
The protesters packed into the lobby, shoving past white-haired investigator John Gagliano, who tried in vain to stop the tide and quickly called 6th District police for help.
“Come out, Frank! We want Frank!” they chanted, armed with a tambourine and pledging to hole up there.
“Get your paddy wagon ready! We ain’t goin’ nowhere!” shouted political firebrand Sandra “18-Wheeler” Hester. “I’m dressed for jail!”
Turns out, Hester can revisit her wardrobe.
Minyard, in a move he said he decided on the spot, met with Glover’s family in a back room and pledged to “reopen” the case.
He said he could review evidence collected by the FBI during the failed federal case against Warren, and he promised to get back to the family within a week or 10 days.
Warren’s admission of the fatal shooting in a federal court stipulation could play into his decision, said Minyard, the parish coroner for four decades.
“We’re supposed to look at everything,” he said. “If it’s forensically possible, we will change that to homicide, but I don’t want to give anybody false hope. If we find nothing in the autopsy and find nothing in the toxicology, we can’t call it homicide.”
Nothing in state law seems to preclude Minyard from taking into account Warren’s admission. It remains unclear why the 85-year-old coroner, who is running for re-election, hasn’t acted sooner.
Minyard cited an overworked staff and the “trauma of Katrina.” He also noted that Glover’s remains turned up in “four or five” plastic bags, burned to a crisp, at a post-Katrina disaster mortuary that handled the remains of some 1,600 people. Former Officer Gregory McRae was convicted of driving Glover’s body to the Algiers levee and setting it aflame — an act McRae admitted.
“It’s a very complicated situation,” Minyard said.
The case was originally deemed an accident in May 2006, when DNA helped identify Glover’s remains. His death was the result of a “fire fatality,” the coroner ruled then.
But the classification was changed to “undetermined” in 2009. Coroner’s officials said they reaffirmed that decision a year later, just as the first federal civil rights trial was getting under way against Warren and four other cops for the shooting, the subsequent burning of Glover’s body and an alleged cover-up.
Minyard offered no explanation for the 2009 change, but he acknowledged doing nothing when Glover’s family asked for a reclassification about 18 months ago.
There were clearly some new political factors in play Monday. The Glovers were accompanied this time by Danatus King, the head of the local branch of the NAACP and one of four candidates to qualify to run for New Orleans mayor last week. Minyard, meanwhile, finds himself in a potential fight for his political life as well, with three candidates — including one of his top lieutenants — signing up to run against him.
The last time the Glovers came in, “I told her we couldn’t change it,” Minyard said of the request by Rebecca Glover, Henry Glover’s aunt.
He said the office has “not officially” reassessed Glover’s death since 2006, “but we looked at it superficially.”
In an interview for a 2010 “Frontline” story on the case, Minyard said the body left few clues.
“Cause of death, we don’t know. I would guess it would be fire. But you know, what happened? Was he shot? Was he hit on the head? Did he shoot himself?” Minyard said in the interview, according to a transcript. “Did he catch himself on fire? All of those kind of things, we can’t say.”
The lack of a homicide classification might have affected how police viewed the death initially.
In 2011, a report by Louisiana State Police slammed former NOPD Assistant Superintendent Marlon Defillo for inaction and a “myopic approach” to the investigation into Glover’s death.
In Defillo’s defense against the accusations, which prompted his resignation, he cited the “unclassified” classification of the death.
“I believe that I was relying on the Coroner’s Office to give me some guidance on what exactly do we have,” Defillo said, explaining why he didn’t alert then-police Superintendent Warren Riley to information about the case.
Just what a homicide ruling might mean now isn’t entirely clear. Minyard said it could help Glover’s family recover insurance money or perhaps secure judgments in civil lawsuits. Several people representing Glover’s children have filed federal civil claims that have remained on hold with the criminal case pending.
“These people, they have been through a lot. They deserve something,” Minyard said. “I’m actually on their side.”
Whether a homicide classification would impact any decision on state murder charges against Warren is uncertain.
Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, declined to comment, adding that Glover’s family has not contacted the office but that Cannizzaro would be “more than willing to meet with them.”
“As I understand it, Dr. Minyard has agreed with the Glover family to reopen his investigation,” Bowman said. “At this point, I think it would be inappropriate to speculate on what we will or will not do based on what Dr. Minyard does or does not do.’
Rebecca Glover said Monday’s meeting with Minyard marked some progress in the family’s quest.
“When I came, I didn’t know if he was going to meet with us or whether he was going to be here,” she said. “It gives me a little more hope we can bring David Warren up on murder charges.”
Warren was retried after a federal appeals court threw out his 2010 conviction, saying it was marred by testimony against the other officers accused in the burning and alleged cover-up. Warren was never accused of knowing about either action.
Warren was not charged directly with murder in the federal case. Instead, along with a civil rights count, he was accused of discharging his weapon in the commission of a violent act — namely, murder.
The 2010 jury settled on manslaughter instead.
Despite that verdict, legal experts point to a “dual sovereignty” principle that still would allow Warren to be tried for murder in state court without being a victim of double jeopardy.
Whether his federal-court stipulation might be used in a state-court prosecution was unclear. That makes the coroner’s determination relevant, said Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino.
“If it’s not classified as a homicide, then the DA is not going to be able to prove, at least from the Coroner’s Office, that Henry Glover was killed by another human being,” he said.
Rick Simmons, one of Warren’s attorneys, noted that one federal jury specifically rejected the murder allegation, while the second found Glover’s shooting was justifiable.
“You have 24 jurors that say he didn’t murder him,” Simmons said. “You get to the point where, how is it fair to keep trying people?”