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Armed and Dangerous 

The cop report from N'awlins you probably haven't read

It's a police brutality story with all of the elements reporters usually salivate over.

Innocent people were gunned down by a marauding band of police officers who reportedly high-fived afterward. The police can't keep their story straight about what really happened, but the carnage they left behind is becoming increasingly difficult to justify. They now concede that the middle-aged uncle and teenaged niece they pumped bullets into, and the aunt whose arm they blew off with a shotgun, weren't armed or threatening in any way. The unarmed, mentally retarded man they shot to death and the teenager whose entrails were blown out with a point-blank shot to the stomach are proving difficult to explain.

If the above happened in any other American city, it would have been plastered across the news. But this act of what appears to be unthinkable police brutality -- or stupidity -- didn't occur in your average city. It happened in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. You probably haven't heard this story because the national media -- from FOX to CNN to the New York Times -- would have to eat a significant amount of crow to tell it, and after the beating they've already taken for their Katrina coverage, they probably wish it would just go away.

If some editor at the Los Angeles Times hadn't been hell-bent on nitpicking the paper's own Katrina coverage -- and by extension everyone else's -- what happened that day on the Danziger Bridge could have slipped into obscurity. It still might. Had the LA Times not run an article on it the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, the other media outlets might have been shamed into picking it up. Instead, it has been ignored.

The Danziger Bridge may not register with you, but maybe the New York Times' story about how New Orleans police officers shot and killed four snipers and wounded two others who had fired at a convoy of contractors crossing a bridge does.

In some media versions of that story, there were five to six killed. A day later, after it became clear the owner of the contracting company who was supposedly victimized knew nothing about the attack, the story changed; only two to three people were killed, and the police were responding to reports of two officers down. Within three days, the story vanished completely from the news, not to be told again until Nov. 24 by the LA Times.

As it turns out, the "sniper" who died was actually an unarmed retarded man who was well-loved by his neighbors.

Upon Creative Loafing's request, a spokesperson for the New Orleans Police Department dug for two days and eventually found the official statement released a month after the incident -- the one the LA Times scrutinized and built its story around. The spokesman said he didn't recall anyone else asking for it.

The report has several glaring omissions. If the Times has the story right -- and really, who knows what's "right" anymore -- one of the "neighborhood thugs" who shot at police was Lance Madison, 49, who played football at Southern University and built a career at Federal Express. On Sept. 4., he and his mentally retarded brother, Ronald Madison, 40, crossed the bridge on their way to their brother's dental office in search of family members. According to the Times, Lance claims they were running from gun-toting teenagers when police officers at the other end of the bridge opened fire, chased them and shot Ronald dead. According to the police statement, officers saw Lance Madison, who is now charged with eight counts of attempted murder, throw his weapon over the bridge into the river. He claims he was unarmed.

According to the Times, Chief Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen, who presided over a hearing on the incident, told police he found it "hard to believe" Madison shot at the officers.

Jose Holmes Jr., 19, also supposedly fired at police while traveling with his uncle and now-limbless aunt, all of whom had been staying in a hotel and hoped to get money from a wallet they left at home. When I asked Police Department Spokesperson Juan Barnes what happened to the gun Holmes supposedly used -- a detail curiously omitted from the police statement -- he said the department was busy recovering from the storm and no one would be able to answer my question.

Officers claim Holmes shot at them and then ducked behind a barrier and continued firing. Holmes told the Times that officers gunned him down as he and his family attempted to flee, and that an officer came up to him as he lay on the sidewalk and blew the hole in his stomach. Holmes now has a colostomy bag and is charged with multiple counts of attempted murder.

Like Madison, Holmes claims he and his family initially ran toward police after gunfire erupted behind them on the other end of the bridge. None of the officers -- most of whom were out of uniform and toting shotguns, AK-47s and carbines because their regular weapons ran out of ammo -- was injured, the Times reported.

It's a hell of a story, a regular soap opera. You'd think someone else would want to dig into it.

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