Danziger ruling sends shockwaves through the community

Danziger Bridge file
Danziger Bridge file

New Orleans, La. - News of a possible Danziger retrial sent shockwaves through the city Tuesday, and some are now calling it a landmark case.

It also revealed for the first time a third web commenter, called "dipsys," who was very high up in the U.S. Justice Department.

In the shadow of the Danziger Bridge case, news spread fast of a retrial in one of the bloodiest chapters of the Katrina saga.

"For the judicial system to throw it out is a breakdown in our system," said New Orleanian Erryn Decuir.

Judge Kurt Engelhardt's decision to throw out guilty verdicts against five police officers because of web posts is one that is now being looked at throughout the American legal system.

"Absolutely it's a landmark case," said FOX 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti. "I can't say it's unprecedented that a new trial was granted, but it's extremely rare that's it's granted for these reasons."

In the 129-page ruling, the judge outlines web comments made by Sal Perricone and Jan Mann, both high-ranking members of the Eastern District U.S. Attorney's Office, at critical junctures in the trial of the five New Orleans officers charged with two murders on the bridge.

"The government engaged in a secret public relations campaign designed to make the NOPD the household name for corruption," Engelhardt said.

"I think this vindicates the NOPD," said Raymond Burkart III with the Fraternal Order of Police. "We have maintained since day one that our officers are dedicated and motivated to serving the citizens and visitors. We are a premiere police department."

But for the first time, the ruling points out the involvement of a third Justice Department official, a woman named Karla Dobinski, who also made web comments. Her job, ironically, was to make sure that prosecutors didn't taint the case. But the judge found that she did.

"We found out that everything that was learned was too much," Raspanti said. "You can't have this and say these policemen got a fair trial, and that's why he granted a new trial."

As bad as the ordeal that claimed two lives was, many were hopeful that the NOPD would change. But some aren't so sure.

"The police department has changed, and not for the better," said Decuir, who believes police training is still lacking, in spite of the Danziger revelations.

Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas declined comment Tuesday, but a police attorney expressed hope that Engelhardt's ruling would clear the way for a full airing of all the facts.

"There's been a new trial ordered," Burkart said. "And we will have all the evidence we need to see what happened that day."

This case has been an ordeal for victims' families who watched it wither and die in state court five years ago, only to see it wind up in federal court for a five-week trial.

"(The officers) are still under indictment," Raspanti said. "But whether they can get out under their original bond, we will see."

The U.S. Attorney's Office says it's still undecided on whether to appeal the ruling.