Facing South

Man indicted for alleged racial attack in post-Katrina New Orleans

By Brendan McCarthy, The Times-Picayune, and A.C. Thompson, ProPublica

A former New Orleans resident was charged last week with federal hate
crimes for his alleged role in a racially motivated shooting of three
black men in the days after Hurricane Katrina.

The man, Roland J. Bourgeois Jr., 47, is accused of plotting to defend
his Algiers Point neighborhood "from outsiders" including
African-Americans, constructing barricades on public streets and using
racial epithets to describe black people, according to the five-count
indictment.

At one point, the charges claim, Bourgeois said, "Anything coming up this street darker than a paper bag is getting shot."

The indictment charges Bourgeois with doing just that when three black
males walked through the neighborhood toward a makeshift Coast Guard
evacuation center on Sept. 1, 2005. Bourgeois fired a shotgun at the
trio, felling Donnell Herrington and wounding Herrington's two
companions near the corner of Pelican Avenue and Vallette Street,
according to the indictment.

Later, Bourgeois plucked Herrington's bloodied baseball cap from the
ground and proudly displayed it to others, boasting that he "got one"
and had shot a "looter," according to a witness.

Bourgeois, who denied any knowledge of the incident to federal agents,
is also accused of coercing an eyewitness to the shooting to lie to
investigators.

Bourgeois left Algiers Point after the hurricane and now lives in
Columbia, Miss., according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil
Rights Division, which is prosecuting the case along with U.S. Attorney
Jim Letten's office.

The indictment,
filed last Thursday, charges Bourgeois with conspiracy to commit a hate
crime, committing a hate crime with a deadly weapon and with intent to
kill, making false statements and obstruction of justice. He faces a
possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.

The Herrington shooting was the subject of a lengthy Justice Department
investigation into claims that white residents of Algiers Point
attacked African-Americans in a spate of racially motivated violence in
the wake of Katrina. Algiers Point did not flood, though it did sustain
wind and storm damage.

The hurricane prompted more than a dozen residents in the neighborhood,
most of whom are white, to take up arms, barricade streets with downed
trees and debris, and coordinate vigilante patrols of the area.

A joint reporting project by The Times-Picayune, ProPublica and PBS' "Frontline" interviewed people this year who implicated Bourgeois in the shooting.

Bourgeois' mother, Pam Pitre, acknowledged in April that her son fired
his shotgun at a black man that day and kept the man's hat. Pitre
insisted her son "is not a racist" and said another man also fired. She
said the shooting had nothing to do with skin color.

One witness, Terri Benjamin, recalled hearing gunfire and seeing
Bourgeois among a group of armed white men. Bourgeois was gripping a
shotgun and celebrating.

"My neighbor was jumping up and down, hooting and hollering like he was
big-game hunting and he got the big one," she said earlier this year.
"All of his friends were rallying him on, and they were cheering."

Another armed man approached soon afterward and told the group that the wounded man was still alive a few blocks away.

According to Benjamin, Bourgeois said, "I'm gonna kill that nigger,"
and ran, barefoot and shirtless, down the street before turning and
jogging out of view.

Benjamin then heard another gunshot. And Bourgeois ran back to the group with a bloody baseball cap.

"And he brandished the cap for all of his friends," Benjamin recalled. "Everybody cheered. They were happy for him."

Herrington called news of the indictment on Thursday a "huge relief."

"It feels good to know that steps are being taken toward bringing that
guy -- or those guys -- toward justice. It's been a long time coming,"
he said.

Herrington and his companions have said they were trying to get to an
evacuation center set up at the ferry terminal in Algiers Point.

Herrington, who lives in Algiers, said his group was walking when a
white man pointed his shotgun and, without saying a word, fired.

Shotgun pellets peppered his throat, torso and arms. He recalls
scrambling to his feet and running. Herrington also remembers two more
armed men joining the first gunman. As he ran, a second shotgun blast
tore through his back.

Herrington eventually found his way to the home of an African-American
couple who drove him to West Jefferson Medical Center, where he
underwent emergency surgery to repair his internal jugular, which was
shredded by buckshot.

His companions, cousin Marcel Alexander and friend Chris Collins,
suffered minor gunshot wounds. Alexander said he and Collins were
briefly taken hostage by a group of about five armed white men, one of
whom threatened to set them on fire. Eventually the group allowed
Alexander and Collins to flee.

Bourgeois is the only person charged to date in the shooting incident.

Herrington said no police officers interviewed him while he was at the
hospital, though officers were present during his stay. He was later
shuttled to a Baton Rouge medical facility.

When Herrington returned to New Orleans he said he visited the 4th
District police station, but officers there didn't file a report on the
shooting.

After the police failed to investigate, Herrington said he felt "nobody cared."

Federal investigators canvassed the neighborhood at various points last
year. Several residents acknowledged testifying earlier this year
before a federal grand jury.

Bourgeois was living months ago with his mother in Mississippi. She
defended him in an interview in April, saying her son was terrified by
the lawlessness in the city following the storm.

She said he had been threatened by a group of African-Americans and
"pelted with bottles" in the days before the shooting occurred. Pitre,
who heard a narrative of the events from her son, said he had
encountered three dangerous and "arrogant" African-American men that
day.

The men, who were trying to break into parked cars, "looked like gang members" to her son, she said.

After the trio of black men tried to move one of the barricades
blocking the street, Bourgeois and another man began shooting at them,
Pitre said. "Both men had guns. Both fired," she said, adding that she
didn't know the name of the other shooter.

Pitre said the shots were meant to "scare," not to kill.

The only reason the matter came to the attention of federal
authorities, she noted, is that "this man Roland shot survived and is
telling his tale."

Herrington has long maintained that he and his companions had nothing
to do with any criminal activity and were simply trying to make their
way out of the stricken city.

A court date for Bourgeois had not been set as of last Thursday evening,
according to court records. The investigation is ongoing, according to a
new release issued by the Justice Department.

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re: Man indicted for alleged racial attack in post-Katrina New O

I'm glad to see this finally moving forward. Another case involving NOLA police officers has also moved forward, I believe convicting the officers of abdicating their duties and killing black men.

We cannot forget (or allow others to forget/ignore) what happened in New Orleans during Katrina.