Relief Denied for Keeping Mum on Body-Burning
(CN) - A New Orleans police captain was properly fired for failing to report the burning of a man shot by police after Hurricane Katrina, a Louisiana appeals court ruled.
The events leading up to the burning of 31-year-old Henry Glover actually involve several members of the New Orleans Police Department.
David Warren had been the officer who fired at Glover outside a strip mall in the New Orleans suburb of Algiers on Sept. 2, 2005. The officer testified that Glover had been charging at him with what looked like a weapon, and that he allegedly did not think his bullet hit Glover.
Glover had been shot, however, and his friends quickly flagged down a civilian driving by in a Chevy Malibu for a ride to a makeshift emergency center in a nearby school.
Jeffery Winn had been the commanding officer of the SWAT team at the school.
Because the coroner's office and morgue were not operational, Winn ordered that the car and body should be taken to the levee behind the police station.
Glover's friends said police officers actually beat them and fled the school with the Chevy Malibu still containing Glover's body.
Lt. Gregory McRae drove the car to the police station and set it on fire. Winn did not know of the burning, and he did not know Glover had been the victim of a police shooting.
Glover is believed to have been dead already from Warren's shooting when his body was burned. McRae was found guilty of burning Glover's body and of beating the three innocent men who tried to get Glover medical attention.
Though Warren was initially convicted and sentenced to 309 months in prison for the manslaughter charge, the former cop was acquitted in a retrial this past December.
Police Captain Tami Brisset received a complaint about the burnt car and body. She contacted Police Captain Donald Curole of the Public Integrity Bureau, since the PIB was the only investigative unit that was functioning. Winn spoke with both captains about the incident.
Three years later, the press and the FBI began to investigate Glover's death. Winn contacted an attorney, despite the fact that he was not involved in Glover's death or postmortem burning.
Winn testified in the subsequent federal prosecutions connected to Glover's death, and the police department eventually suspended and fired him for two counts of neglect of duty.
The Civil Service Commission upheld Winn's firing because he failing to make a timely report when he learned of McRae's burning of Glover's body.
Winn's boss, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, testified that Winn's actions denied the department the opportunity to investigate a possible crime involving police officers.
On appeal, Winn argued that he was following his attorney's advice to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights after a police lieutenant told Winn that he thought Winn knew about the burning of the body.
A divided three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Winn's suspension and termination on Feb. 21.
"Given Winn's admission that he knowingly withheld the information regarding McRae's misconduct from both his superiors and the PIB, and the testimony of Supt. Serpas that Winn violated NOPD internal rules by neglecting his duties, to the detriment of the department, we find the appointing authority had cause to discipline Winn," Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano wrote for the majority.
Winn's Fifth Amendment rights privilege did not preclude him from reporting on other police officers' misconduct, the court found.
"At the point in May 2009 when [the lieutenant] told Winn that he thought Winn knew McRae had burned the vehicle containing Glover's body, Winn had not been compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself or to report misconduct of his own," Lobrano wrote. "Rather, Winn was obligated to report in a timely manner any misconduct of other NOPD officers, including those under his command."
Chief Judge James McKay III disagreed that Winn's boss showed that the termination relied "on good cause or that the punishment was commensurate with the alleged infraction."
"Accordingly, the Civil Service Commission's denial of the appellant's appeal was manifestly erroneous and arbitrary and capricious," McKay wrote in dissent.