Police brutality in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is under new scrutiny after a joint investigation by PBS, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and ProPublica raised questions about what happened to two New Orleans residents and a photojournalist three days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
The incident reportedly took place on Religious Street on September 1, 2005 when the New Orleans Police Department responded to a report of a shooting. When they arrived at the scene, they found two men, Robert Williams and Ernest Bell, who were apparently not involved in the shooting. Times-Picayune city editor Gordon Russell in a December 2009 Times-Picayune story says he and New York Times freelance photographer Marko Georgiev later arrived at the scene and saw the badly beaten bodies of Williams and Bell. Russell .
“As we drove up Religious Street, just past the Saulet Apartments, we saw a dicey situation ahead,” Russell wrote. “Police-issue Crown Victorias blocking the intersection. A parked bus and a wrecked limo. And a swarm of police officers in the street, guns drawn, facing the other direction.”
“We saw a man, clad in a white T-shirt, down on the pavement, hands behind his back, not moving,” he continued. “We were both sure he was dead. A lot of agitated police officers hovered around.”
Russell said as they attempted to drive through the intersection they were forced to stop by police, who had turned their guns on the two journalists. According to Russell, the police then grabbed the two journalists out of the car and made them face a wall while they took memory cards from Georgiev’s camera.
Williams and Bell both survived the beatings, and admitted they had stolen a limousine to try to escape the hurricane-ravaged city. The two men said after they were detained they were handcuffed and beaten badly.
“I was thinking we was going to die,” Williams told the Times-Picayune. “I was begging them to shoot me and get it over with.”
There were no arrests or police reports filed in connection with the incident. New Orleans police have declined comment.