La. Police Who Turned Away Katrina Victims Face Inquiry

Associated Press
Saturday, August 5, 2006

NEW ORLEANS -- A grand jury will investigate last year's blockade of a Mississippi River bridge by armed police officers who turned back Hurricane Katrina evacuees trying to flee New Orleans.

Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan declined to reveal any details of the investigation on Thursday.

The grand jury will not begin the investigation next week, but it will start soon, said Leatrice Dupre, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.

Several hundred evacuees claimed that police from suburban Gretna blocked them as they tried to flee New Orleans for safety on Sept. 1.

Many of the evacuees, who had been stranded at the New Orleans convention center without food and water, said they were told to cross the bridge to be evacuated from the city. But Gretna police confronted them on the bridge and forced them to turn around.

Police later said they blocked the evacuees because there were no supplies or services for them on the other side of the river.

Gretna Police Chief Arthur S. Lawson Jr. has acknowledged that his officers fired shots into the air in an attempt to quell what he described as unrest among the evacuees.

The case raised widespread allegations of racism and spurred two marches across the bridge by national civil rights organizations in the months after the hurricane.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company