Jury acquits David Warren in Henry Glover shooting

The fatal shot from a New Orleans police officer’s rifle that preceded the burning of a body and allegations of a cover-up, making the name Henry Glover a symbol for heinous New Orleans police misconduct in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, was legally justifiable, a federal court jury decided Wednesday.

The jury of eight women and four men acquitted former Officer David Warren of violating Glover’s civil rights when he fired a single bullet from his personal assault rifle from the second-floor breezeway of an Algiers strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005.

The jury also acquitted Warren of discharging a weapon in the commission of a violent crime — namely, the civil-rights violation charged in the first count.

Members of Glover’s family reacted emotionally to the news. His sister, Patrice Glover, wailed in a hallway: “He killed my brother! He killed my brother! He got away!”

Federal prosecutor Jared Fishman declined to comment on the verdict, which came after more than 14 hours of deliberation over two days, and shortly after jurors reported they were deadlocked. After the impasse was announced, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk issued a so-called “dynamite” charge, urging the jury to try to come to a consensus. Within an hour, jurors returned to the courtroom and announced they had.

Warren was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison in his first trial, in December 2010, but that verdict was vacated after an appeals court ruled he should not have had to stand trial with the officers charged with burning Glover’s body, beating his companions and orchestrating a cover-up.

For Warren, 50, the acquittal marked a sudden end to a saga that began on an eerily silent morning in a nearly empty West Bank area, and ran through two trials in the past three years — and three-plus years of incarceration. He was released shortly after the verdict was announced, and he held a news conference with his attorneys in Metairie just after 7 p.m.

Describing himself as “almost numb,” Warren thanked God, the jury and his attorneys, Rick Simmons and Julian Murray. He also steadfastly defended his shooting of Glover.

“We have spent years talking about something that lasted seconds,” he said, with his wife, Kathy, sitting nearby. “I do not have regrets. (In) the situation, I felt that I acted properly, and I still feel that I acted properly.”

He also said he felt “persecuted” by the government and the believed the burning of Glover’s body had caused the shooting to be seen in a more nefarious light. Warren said he doesn’t have “any inclination to re-enter law enforcement,” but he hadn’t thought much about what to do next, or whether to stay in the New Orleans area.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite Jr. issued a terse statement Wednesday evening that said simply: “While we are disappointed by the verdict, we thank the jury members for their attentive service in reaching a decision in this matter.”

Even if Warren’s saga has ended, the Glover case appears far from over, more than eight years after it began.

Travis McCabe, whose conviction for writing a false police report on the deadly shooting also was overturned, is scheduled to be retried in March.

And former Officer Gregory McRae, who admitted driving Glover’s bloodied body to the Algiers levee in the back seat of a white Chevy Malibu and setting it aflame, continues to appeal his conviction. McRae is serving a 17-year sentence.

Warren was a 42-year-old rookie patrolman and skilled marksman when he shot at an unidentified man — only much later identified as Glover.

Glover had driven up to the back of the strip mall in a stolen truck with a friend, Bernard Calloway, to retrieve a suitcase full of stolen merchandise left behind by two women friends.

Their plan, according to Calloway and others, was to grab the suitcase, pile in the pickup with friends and family and drive as far as they could to find a place with food and fresh water.

But Glover barely made it down the street.

Warren testified the men pulled up fast and loud, and he shouted for them to leave, announcing, “Police! Get out!”

According to Warren, the men kept striding toward a ground-level gate that he said was unlocked, and even looked up in his direction before he fired.

His testimony contradicted that of both Calloway and Warren’s partner that day, veteran Officer Linda Howard.

Howard said both men were already running away when Warren fired. Calloway said he was reaching for the suitcase, while Glover was lighting a smoke by the truck, when he heard the shot.

Both Howard and Sgt. Purnella Simmons, the only ranking officer to respond to Howard’s call about the shooting, said the gate was locked.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Knight, in her closing argument Tuesday, described the gated strip mall as a “fortress,” arguing Warren had no good reason to fear for his safety.

Warren testified Monday that he saw what he believed was the butt end and the barrel of a handgun in the right hand of one of the men, then fired, thinking he “was going to die.”

It was the most specific description Warren had given of what he believed he saw. Simmons testified Warren never mentioned any type of possible weapon in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Three months later, he described seeing an unknown object.

At the first trial, Warren testified: “The one in the lead, I was concerned, his right hand I couldn’t see clearly, it looked like he had something in it. And as he continued to come toward the gate, I was concerned he had a weapon.”

On Monday, Warren took the stand again.

“I can tell you what I thought I saw was the butt of a pistol and part of the barrel. I thought, ‘If he gets through the gate, I’m gonna die. If he gets through that gate, I’m not gonna be there for my son’s third birthday.’ ”

Federal prosecutors seized on the change in his account. They argued Warren was lying in a bid to bolster his case for firing on Glover, since only a gun would pose a deadly threat at the estimated 66-foot distance between the two men.

What went undisputed is Warren shot Glover, who fell to the ground and was lifted by Calloway and his brother, Edward King, into the car of a passer-by, William Tanner, who drove to a makeshift police compound set up at nearby Habans Elementary School.

Glover never got any medical attention there. Instead, he remained in the backseat of the car, which McRae later drove onto the levee and set aflame. Three months later, police wrote up an allegedly doctored report on the shooting that found it to be justified.

Tanner said he was dismayed by the verdict, and the fact the jury heard nothing about the burning of Glover’s body.

“All that hard work for nothing,” he said. “All it did was put salt on a wound again.”

Unlike the last trial, this one focused on Warren alone — the circumstances, where he stood and his state of mind when he peered into the magnification scope of his long-range rifle and pulled the trigger. Warren testified about how he had responded two days earlier to the shooting of fellow Officer Kevin Thomas.

Simmons, Warren’s attorney, said the focus on Warren alone and his state of mind when he fired, “including the Katrina situation and civil unrest,” was the clear difference in the outcome.

“Still, there’s no winners, only survivors,” he said. Glover, he added, is “a victim of Katrina. He’s not a victim of an unreasonable shooting by Warren.”

At his news conference, Warren addressed a little-spoken issue during the trial: the racial aspect of a white officer firing on a black man. He has insisted it made no difference to his actions that day at the strip mall.

“I would hope as a city and as a society that we would learn to deal with each other as individuals. The racial issue, the only way to address it and the best way to address it is to know people as people,” he said.

To prove a “willful” violation of Glover’s civil rights, federal prosecutors needed to show that Warren acted “with bad purpose,” intending to commit an illegal act when he fired on Glover. A pair of questions by the jury Wednesday afternoon suggested it was hung up on that issue.

During her closing statement, Knight brought up earlier testimony by another former NOPD officer, Alec Brown, who recalled Warren telling him, while on patrol shortly after the storm, that looters “were pretty much animals and deserved to be shot.”

Warren, he testified, didn’t distinguish between people stealing TVs and those taking food and water for survival.

“David Warren did not shoot Henry Glover because he had to, because his life was being threatened. He shot Henry Glover because he could,” Knight told the jury. “It was Katrina and no one was watching. With everything else going on, there would be little or no investigation. Warren thought that no one would really care about this man.”

Prosecutors tried to show that Warren faced no imminent danger when he fired. His actions afterward — turning his back on the two men as they ran away and not alerting anyone to the handgun he allegedly thought he saw in one of the men’s hands — belied his purported fear of being killed, Knight said.

“If Warren was as terrified as he says he was, he would have watched to see where the two men went,” Knight said. “He never went back out on the balcony to look for the people who just tried to attack him? To see where this crazy man with a gun was running to? No way in this world that a police officer would watch his attackers run partially up the street, and then walk away.”

Testifying Monday, Warren said he watched the men run for a few seconds, then bolted to the front of the strip mall to see whether there were others coming from that side.

“I felt the danger had passed,” he said.

Simmons, Warren’s attorney, told the jury that Warren had good reason to fear for his life when he fired a single shot from his .223-caliber SIG Arms rifle, peering through a red-dot scope.

He called the prosecution’s case “Monday-morning quarterbacking” based on reconstructed memories — particularly those of Howard, whose shifting testimony and sworn statements over the years proved troubling for the prosecution.

Simmons suggested that Howard and other witnesses form-fitted their testimony to a story that federal prosecutors were forced to adjust, largely because Howard changed her story about where she stood when Warren fired.

He asked: If she wasn’t on the rear balcony of the strip mall, where she originally said she saw the two men running down the street, and Glover fall, just how far could she see down the street from inside a locked gate, and could her testimony be believed?

Warren’s attorneys seized on discrepancies in her testimony.

“Never before have so many tried so hard for so long to make so much out of so little. I’m not talking about the death of this man. I’m talking about the effort to prosecute this man,” Simmons said.

“You’ll never be able to put yourself in the position of David Warren,” he told the jury, referring to Warren’s state of mind when he fired. “You can’t.”

Warren declined to discuss Howard after the verdict.