Two Police Videotaped Beating Man Are Fired
Third New Orleans Police Officer Receives a 120-Day Suspension
By MARY FOSTER, AP
NEW ORLEANS (Dec. 22) - Union officials have vowed to fight the firing of two police officers involved in a videotaped beating on Bourbon Street, saying a "media frenzy" made it impossible for Police Superintendent Warren Riley to give the officers a fair hearing.
Mel Evans, AP
Robert Davis was beaten in the French Quarter after returning to New Orleans to check his properties for hurricane damage.
Officers Robert Evangelist and Lance Schilling were fired Wednesday for their role in the beating of 64-year-old Robert Davis. Officer Stuart Smith was suspended for 120 days.
"This case became highly publicized through the media," union president Lt. David Benelli said, adding that the union intends to appeal the firings to the Civil Service Commission. "In light of the worldwide media frenzy these officers were placed under, it was impossible for them to receive a fair investigation."
After seeing the Associated Press video of the Oct. 8 beating, Riley had called the officers' actions unacceptable - comments Benelli said interfered with their ability to get a fair investigation by the police internal affairs division.
Riley maintained that the matter was handled fairly through an internal administrative hearing held the morning of the firings.
"The information from that hearing and testimony as well as the video led us to believe we made the appropriate decision in terminating those two officers," Riley said. "The New Orleans Police Department at no time will tolerate our officers disrespecting or abusing citizens."
A lawyer for the three said the department rushed the firings. Ordinarily, said attorney Frank DeSalvo, dismissal would occur only after the officers had been tried on criminal charges.
"They never thought they'd get a fair shake from this department," DeSalvo said. "The guys fully expected what happened to happen."
All three officers face trial on Jan. 11 on various charges.
Evangelist and Schilling were accused of battery against Davis. Smith was accused of battery against a reporter. All three officers had been suspended without pay since the beating, which renewed longstanding allegations of racism, brutality and corruption in the New Orleans Police Department. The three officers are white, and Davis is black. Davis said he does not believe race was an issue in the beating.
Davis' attorney, Joseph Bruno, said Davis did not want to comment on the firings.
Bruno, however, applauded Riley.
"I think the Superintendent did what was appropriate," Bruno said. "I applaud him ... it's a courageous move, it's a bold move."
DeSalvo said that the video of the confrontation does not give the whole story.
Davis, a retired elementary school teacher who returned to the storm-struck city to check on his properties, said he was searching for cigarettes in the French Quarter when police grabbed him.
The Associated Press Television News tape shows an officer hitting Davis at least four times on the head. Davis appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers.
One of the officers kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was face-down on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter.
Smith ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and the cameraman to stop recording. When Matthews held up his credentials, the officer grabbed the producer, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade.
Davis later pleaded not guilty to charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation.
The video shows two FBI agents, in town to help with post-Katrina patrols, joining the New Orleans police in subduing Davis. Their role in the incident is being investigated by federal officials.
A federal civil rights investigation also was launched.
12-22-05 02:45 EST