NEW ORLEANS-- The ACLU of Louisiana applauds Attorney General Foti?s investigation of the August 31, 2005, incident on the Mississippi River Bridge concerning New Orleans evacuees and the Gretna Police. At the same time, we urge all possible speed in releasing the report.
"Police have a sworn duty to protect and to serve all of the people all of the time, especially during an emergency situation like post Katrina, when people were literally fleeing for their lives," said Joe Cook, Executive Director, ACLU of Louisiana. "Even if race did not play a role as they claim, although certain actions and public statements give that impression, reckless disregard for the safety of the public calls for accountability."
When the Gretna Police stopped what they say were "potential looters" on the bridge they may have committed an unreasonable seizure and interfered with the right to travel freely, both rights recognized as flowing from the Constitution. Whether they violated any specific Louisiana law is questionable; however, firing gunshots in the air over persons fleeing a disaster may constitute a criminal act, if the conduct is deemed unreasonable.
This past New Year's Eve, another person was hit by a falling bullet and is now paralyzed. When the Gretna Police fired over the heads of these "looters on walkers," they showed no concern for the public safety they are sworn to protect.
A Louisiana statute does allow for the Parish President [or mayor] to issue orders to: "Control ingress and egress to and from the affected area, the movement of persons within the area, and the occupancy of premises therein," during a properly declared state of emergency. This power is constitutionally questionable.
Cook goes on to say, "We believe that the legislature did not intend to put human life at risk by preventing persons in imminent danger from access to safety, when they adopted this statute."
Attorney General Foti has taken the lead in investigating the Gretna PD incident, as well as possible violations of law in nursing homes and hospitals during the Katrina emergency, both of which may have resulted in untimely deaths. Hopefully, Foti is assuming the position that the Attorney General is "The People's Lawyer." In any case, it is imperative that he issue reports before the general legislative session so that our legislators can take positive action to insure that any uncovered abuses do not happen again.
 See LA R.S. 14:18(1)
 See LA R.S. 29:727(F)(7)