The city of New Orleans has agreed to settle a civil rights case stemming from a lethal confrontation between New Orleans police officers and unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced the $13.3 million settlement at a news conference Monday, the TImes-Picayune reports. The settlement includes a payment for a separate incident, the beating death of 48-year-old Raymond Robair, who was killed before the storm.
Landrieu’s office was instrumental in negotiating the settlement on behalf of the New Orleans Police Department, and he said that the settlement marks a painful moment in the history of the department, but it also provides closure for the victims and the city.
Landrieu accepted responsibility for the slayings and apologized on behalf of the city, the Times-Picayune reports.
"We are going to change as a people and we are going to change as a city because we choose to," Landrieu said, adding that the city has taken major steps toward improving the operations of the Police Department to ensure that such violence and the subsequent cover-up would not occur again.
"In some small way, the lives that have been maimed and the lives have been taken were not lives that were or will be lived in vain," Landrieu said. "The people standing behind you have chosen to give us the grace and the blessing of forgiveness for what it is that happened to them."
According to the Times-Picayune, 20 officers were charged in connection with civil rights violations that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Monday’s settlement covers 17 plaintiffs who brought different claims against the city, including wrongful death and personal injury.
Six officers pleaded guilty for their involvement in the shootings, two of which were fatal, and the subsequent cover-up. Five of the officers were sentenced in April.
As a result of the shootings on Danziger Bridge and the beating of Robair, the NOPD is under the most comprehensive federal consent decree in the country, Landrieu said. The department has since changed the way it hires, supervises and trains officers.
New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harrison told the Times-Picayune that the department is training officers to de-escalate situations and is holding officers responsible for their use of force.
Harrison said that part of that accountability is requiring officers to turn on body cameras, and that that is happening nearly 100 percent of the time.
"If we find a problem, we do not make excuses. We take swift action against anyone who chooses to make a bad decision," Harrison said. "You have my commitment that we will continue to build a professional, community-oriented Police Department."
The Times-Picayune reports that earlier this fall, the City Council authorized city officials to take out loans that would help pay the settlements, and Landrieu said the settlements are expected to be paid out over the next 24 months.
Read more at the Times-Picayune.