Monday, October 10, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two New Orleans police officers pleaded not guilty yesterday to battery charges based on a videotape showing two patrolmen repeatedly punching a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication.

A third officer accused of grabbing and shoving an Associated Press Television News producer who helped capture the confrontation on tape also pleaded not guilty to a battery charge.

After a brief hearing, at which trial was set for Jan. 11, the officers were released on bond. They quickly left in cars without commenting.

They were suspended without pay Sunday, police spokesman Marlon Defillo said. The police promised a criminal investigation.

“It’s a troubling tape, no doubt about it,” Mr. Defillo said.

The confrontations come as the department — long plagued by charges of brutality and corruption — struggles with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the resignation last month of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass.

The APTN tape shows an officer hitting the suspect, Robert Davis, at least four times in the head Saturday night outside a French Quarter bar. Mr. Davis appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers.

Another of the officers then kneed Mr. Davis and punched him twice. Mr. Davis was facedown on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter.

Police said Mr. Davis, of New Orleans, was booked on public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation. He was treated at a hospital and released into police custody.

A mug shot of Mr. Davis, provided by a jailer, showed him with his right eye swollen shut, an apparent abrasion on the left side of his neck and a cut on his right temple.

Mr. Davis, who is black, was subdued at the intersection of Conti and Bourbon streets. Three of the officers appeared to be white, and the other is light skinned. The officer who shoved the producer is white.

Mr. Defillo said race was not an issue.

“Our police officers are working under some very trying times,” Mr. Defillo said. “[B]ut it doesn’t excuse what our jobs are supposed to be.”

During the confrontation, one officer ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and the cameraman to stop recording. When Mr. 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.

“I’ve been here for six weeks trying to keep … alive. … Go home!” shouted the officer, who identified himself as S.M. Smith.

In addition to Officer Smith, the other officers charged were identified as Lance Schilling and Robert Evangelist. Officer Smith is an eight-year veteran of the force, while Officer Evangelist and Officer Schilling have served three years each.

Two of the officers in the video appeared to be federal officers. Numerous agencies have sent police to help with patrols in the aftermath of Katrina, and Mr. Defillo said it would be up to their commanders to decide if they would face charges.

On Friday, state authorities said they were investigating accusations that New Orleans police broke into an automobile dealership and made off with nearly 200 cars — including 41 new Cadillacs — as the storm closed in.

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