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Federal agents open inquiry into order authorizing NOPD cops to shoot looters

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By Robin Fields, ProPublica

Federal agents are looking into allegations
that high-ranking New Orleans police commanders gave orders after
Hurricane Katrina authorizing officers to shoot looters, our partners at
the New Orleans Times-Picayune report.

Agents have asked for information from New Orleans Police Department
Superintendent Ronal Serpas and are asking to interview officers with
direct knowledge of the orders, the Times-Picayune says.

The inquiry comes in response to reports
by the Times-Picayune, ProPublica and PBS Frontline that described the
orders as part of a broader examination of police conduct and shootings
of civilians in the days after the storm.

The new inquiry adds to the troubles facing the NOPD, which is
already the subject of at least nine ongoing federal investigations.
Since February, federal prosecutors have charged 16 current and former
cops with crimes allegedly committed after Katrina hurtled the city into
chaos. So far, five have pleaded guilty.

We reported Wednesday that several current and former officers
recalled a meeting several days after the hurricane at which Warren
Riley, then the NOPD's second in command, instructed them and other
officers to "take the city back" and "shoot looters."

Riley denied telling officers they could shoot looters. "I didn't say
anything like that," he said in an interview for the Frontline
documentary, "Law & Disorder," broadcast last week. "I heard rumors
that someone else said that. But I certainly didn't say that, no."

The report published last Wednesday also said a police captain, James
Scott, was captured on videotape by another member of the force telling
cops at a morning roll call, "We have authority by martial law to shoot
looters."

Scott, now captain of the department's special operations division,
said he did not recall the incident. His lawyer said that that the
entirety of the videotape places Scott's remark in a different context,
but he would not disclose what else Scott said.

It's not clear how broadly the orders concerning looters were
communicated, or if they were heard by any of the officers involved in shooting 11 civilians in the days after Katrina.

Some officers told us they refused to pass them on or carry them out.
Others say they saw the instructions as a fundamental change in the
standards for using deadly force, which allow police to shoot only to
protect themselves or others from what appears to be an imminent
physical threat.

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