In the hours and days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and floodwaters overwhelmed 80 percent of the city, reports of widespread looting, violence and heavily armed gangs roaming the streets were rampant.
Now, as police investigators unravel the tales and find that many of them — such as stories about multiple rapes and murders of women and children at the Superdome — were false, officers are also faced with the difficult task of investigating their own. On Thursday, four New Orleans police officers were suspended and one reassigned amid allegations that they participated in some of the looting.
According to CNN, the city’s police department is looking into claims that as many as a dozen officers may have gone on a looting spree in the days after the storm hit. The probe was initiated after officials began reviewing news reports, according to acting Police Superintendent Warren Riley, who would not elaborate on what the tapes contained.
Riley promised “swift and decisive action” against any violators. “There is zero tolerance for misconduct or unprofessionalism by any member of this department,” he said. The officers are alleged to have taken televisions and Rolex watches, as well as not acting to stop other looters.
“The investigation does show police officers with some items,” Riley said, but he noted that many of those items were essential to the officers doing their jobs, such as food and clothing. Another matter Riley is investigating, according to The New York Times, is the commandeering by some officers of more than two dozen Cadillacs from a local car dealership after police lost the use of some of their vehicles in the flooding that followed the storm.
“There were some officers who actually patrolled in Cadillacs, I will tell you that,” Riley said. “But it was done with the greatest intent.”
New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass abruptly resigned on Tuesday and Mayor Ray Nagin named Riley to be his replacement. A department spokesperson denied that Compass’ resignation was tied to the probe.
Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. is also investigating two separate incidents of possible looting by law enforcement, but would not specify which jurisdiction his probe is centered on. A police spokesperson said one of the incidents Foti is examining took place at the AmeriHost Inn and Suites in the days following the storm, which were captured on tape by a local TV reporter and photographer.
Officials have reviewed videotape showing an officer reaching for his gun as he blocked a reporter from the 10th floor of the hotel, where he and seven other officers were reportedly staying. The hotel’s owner told CNN that on August 29, the night of the storm, 70 officers moved into the hotel, 62 of whom went out to fight looters, while eight stayed behind and began and a four-day drinking and looting spree.
“They’d leave [at] nine or 10 at night and come back at 4:30 in the morning,” carrying “everything from Adidas shoes to Rolex watches,” owner Osman Khan said. Other witnesses said the men came back with fans, weapons and even a generator that was stolen from Tulane University Hospital next door and used to keep their beer cold.
Other witnesses told CNN that police continue to loot unoccupied homes, kicking in doors and carting off stereo equipment and other valuables.
Another unfolding scandal involves the renting of cruise ships by the embattled Federal Emergency Management Agency. CNN reported that the agency has paid more than $236 million to Carnival Cruise Lines to rent three ships for six months to house evacuees, police and emergency workers.
While FEMA was expecting 10,000 evacuees to use the ships, so far, fewer than 2,000 have taken up the offer. U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and Barack Obama derided the “sweetheart” deal for Carnival on Thursday in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, asking him why the government is paying the cruise line rates much higher than market levels when Greece offered to send two cruise ships for free. The price tag for the ships was calculated on what Carnival would have earned on tickets, as well as casino gambling, food and beverage and other amenities that the evacuees do not have access to, according to CNN.
To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV’s hurricane relief page.