Well, it took almost seven months, but the New Orleans Police Department has
finally gotten its lies straight, concerning pilfering police officers who
availed themselves of other people’s property in Katrina’s aftermath. The
official word: Looters in uniform do not count as looters.
The pronunciamento concerned four female officers – Olivia Fontenot, Vera
Polite, Debra Prosper and Kenyatta Phillips – caught by an MSNBC news crew in a
compromising position inside a Wal-Mart. According to a report from the New
Orleans Times-Picayune’s Michael
“When a reporter asks the officers what they're doing, one of them
responds, ‘Looking for looters.’ She then hastily turns her back to the
“In the video, the officers never offer an explanation as to why they're
filling a shopping basket with merchandise. Instead, Fontenot tells (MSNBC's
Fred) Savidge that they are ‘looking for looters.’
“When Savidge points out that he can see looters everywhere, the
following exchange takes place: Fontenot: ‘That's what I see, including you.
What are you doing in here?’
“Savidge: ‘I haven't taken anything, ma'am.’
“Fontenot: ‘But you're in the store, huh?’”
Office Fontenot was clearly seeking to intimidate Savidge out of doing his
job by making a veiled threat of arresting him, while letting all the looters
According to Perlstein, earlier that day, several Times-Picayune reporters
also saw officers taking items such as fishing poles and electronics “while
dozens of other officers stood by.”
But that was then, this is now. Speaking through a department flack,
Superintendent Warren Riley said "It was determined that all four officers had
received permission from their commanders to get clothing for fellow officers
who were soaking wet. They did not steal anything."
Thus, the officers who were stealing in the Wal-Mart in front of the MSNBC
crew weren’t “really” stealing, because they had their commander’s permission.
Now, if they had really had their commander’s permission, don’t you think they
would have simply said so, instead of hiding from the camera, making the idiotic
statement that they were “looking for looters,” and threatening to arrest a
When I was a department store security guard, it was really easy to profile
most shoplifters before they stole anything, because they practically had a big
“G” for guilty written on their foreheads. They’d look around in a paranoid
fashion and otherwise draw attention to themselves. Those New Orleans
policewomen were acting guilty as hell. If they weren’t looting, why did they
feel so guilty?
And what are we to make of a modern, big-city police department that requires
almost seven months to come up with such a pathetic cover-up. Heck, my
six-year-old could have come up with a better fib, off the cuff.
However, although the four officers were not, let me repeat, NOT looting,
they still got suspended “for 10 days without pay for ‘neglect of duty’ because
‘people can be observed illegally inside the store with property in their
possession and you took no police action to prevent or stop the looting,’
according to their disciplinary letters.”
Officer Fontenot was also suspended for three days for being "discourteous"
to MSNBC’s Fred Savidge.
The message is clear: Should a reporter catch you in the act of looting,
remember to be courteous.
Considering how many NOPD officers stood around while civilians looted, I
guess we can expect to see Assistant Chief Marlon Defillo (remember that name!),
commander of the Public Integrity Bureau, to hand down a few hundred such
ten-day suspensions. Hahahaha! Just kidding.
(Public Integrity is often called “Internal Affairs” in other urban police
forces. Police departments periodically change the names of such divisions,
thinking that a name change can confuse the public about the corruption the
division is supposed to ferret out.)
In another case, in which two NOPD officers were photographed looting inside
a store, Assistant Chief Defillo did not suspend them, saying that in the
photograph, no one else could be seen looting in the store. I know what you’re
saying: What does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Translation of
Defilloese into English: It’s ok for NOPD officers to loot, as long as they
don’t tolerate civilians looting.
This is a new one on me. I’ve never before heard of an internal affairs
division trying to cover up corruption, and whose boss sounded more like a PR
flack than a corruption investigator.
Warren Riley became chief when his disgraced predecessor, Eddie Compass, was
forced out following the Katrina non-looting. But Assistant Chief Marlon Defillo
(remember that name!) now tells us that police looting was a myth perpetrated by
"People were saying a lot of things at that time, but we had to separate fact
from fiction. Each of the cases that were presented to my office were thoroughly
investigated and based on all the facts and circumstances, we found that
officers either weren't looting or they were taking essential items. A lot of
media ran stories about looting without proper validation."
Meanwhile, Lt. David Benelli, the president of the Police Association of New
Orleans, said “It’s all a matter of perception.” The Times-Picayune’s Michael
Perlstein quotes Lt. Benelli as saying, “[I]t was easy for witnesses to
misinterpret the actions of police in the chaotic environment after the storm.
He said he was the target of uneasy glares when he went to the Lower 9th Ward in
September and retrieved jewelry and other valuables through the window of his
mother-in-law's house on Caffin Avenue….
"There were wild aspersions that the NOPD had run amok, but a lot of these
stories came out before all the facts had been gathered and investigated. We
were the whipping boys right after the storm. What you don't see is, months
later when a police officer is exonerated, the media coming back to do that
If the stories about police officers looting were fake or matters of mistaken
“perception,” why can’t Chief Compass get his job back?
But the police officers weren’t exonerated, they were given a pass as part of
a bungled official cover-up. There’s a huge difference between the two.
If Chief Riley, Assistant Chief Defillo, and Lt. Benelli’s purpose is to
guarantee that the NOPD remains the butt of jokes, they’re doing a bang-up
Are New Orleans burglars now going to be able to get off by claiming that the
arresting officer “misinterpreted” their actions?
“The butt of jokes” brings us to the Times-Picayune, whose editors and some
staffers perpetrated to my knowledge the
most ambitious media cover-up ever, when, on September 26 they
essentially told the public, regarding the early reports of anarchic,
Post-Katrina violence, “Who are you going to believe, us or your lying
The odd thing is, though the reporters writing the cover-up story wouldn’t
admit it, the Times-Picayune had itself been the source for the most gruesome
Do the editors now lead staff meetings by saying, “Today, we’re telling the
truth about story X, but we’re lying about story Y”?
In any event, for those of you keeping score – and you really need a
scorecard – the NOPD is covering up for post-Katrina police looters, while the
Times-Picayune is covering up for violent civilian criminals.