Can New Orleans Heal Now That We Know Cops Shot, Killed, and Burned a Black Man After Katrina?

In officially reclassifying the death of Henry Glover, a 31-year-old father of four, as a homicide, New Orleans's coroner has began to correct one of the more grotesque examples of injustice of an era defined by it.

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Apr 8 2015, 6:20pm

The Lower Ninth Ward a few months after Katrina in early 2006. Photo via Flickr user Infrogmation

With the very symbolic stroke of a pen, New Orleans coroner Jeffrey Rouse did his part last week to mitigate ten years of suspicion, mistrust, and guilt left behind after Hurricane Katrina.

In officially reclassifying the death of Henry Glover, a 31-year-old father of four, as a homicide, Rouse corrected one of the more grotesque instances of injustice to arise from an era that was marked by wholesale disregard of civil rights and common sense.

Glover was shot in a shopping center parking lot by a New Orleans police officer on September 2, 2005, four days after the hurricane decimated the Gulf Coast. His body was then driven to an isolated area where both he and the car were set ablaze with emergency flares—by a different New Orleans police officer.

That was the end of Glover's physical suffering, but only the beginning of what would be ten years of administrative violence against his humanity and psychological torture for his family.

Incredibly, the New Orleans Coroner's Office initially classified Glover's death as "accidental." This was long before Rouse took over the office. When the case was reopened in 2009, and again in 2010—both times before Rouse's tenure—Glover's cause of death was reclassified as "undetermined."

That's how it remained until last Wednesday, when the recently elected coroner told us what everyone has known for ten years: Glover's shot up and torched body was neither accidental nor undetermined.

Somebody killed him.

In a place with the nicknames the Big Easy and the City That Care Forgot, you can expect a certain insouciant and laconic approach to everything in New Orleans—justice included—but waiting ten years for Glover to be identified as the victim of a homicide has been absurd even by our corrupted standards.

And it's more than just a symbolic act. Astonishingly, because the case was never classified as a homicide, the New Orleans Police Department never fully investigated Henry Glover's death. That's just a matter of protocol.

When miles of levee surrounding New Orleans collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, America got its first glimpse of what dystopia really looked like.

The news of reclassification signals perhaps one small step toward the karmic cleansing this city has so badly needed since everything went wrong in the summer of 2005.

Perhaps.

When miles of levee surrounding New Orleans collapsed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, America got its first glimpse of what dystopia really looked like. There was no law, there was no order. It was the survival of the fittest—and the most heavily armed.

The disheveled masses wandering the streets of the city in search of food and water predated images we would soon associate with a TV show called The Walking Dead. Chaos and confusion were the new normal; moral boundaries were as murky as the brackish waters of Lake Pontchartrain, which flooded 80 percent of the city.

But even with these caveats—the necessarily breeched protocols and improvised practices of all agencies and institutions—justice never seemed more blind than in the case of Henry Glover.

Walking through a strip-mall parking lot in the Algiers section of New Orleans—the largest swath of unflooded land in the city —Glover was felled with a single gunshot wound to the chest, fired by NOPD cop David Warren, who claimed self-defense.

It's a scenario that has become disturbingly familiar in the ensuing decade: Unarmed black man. Armed white cop. Unreliable eyewitness accounts.

But this was just the first action in a series of events that would spiral out of control into complete insanity. Glover's friend and brother lifted his limp body from the street and flagged down a passing motorist, William Tanner.

They loaded his body into Tanner's Chevy Malibu. Unsure whether any hospitals were operational, Tanner drove the group to Paul B. Habans Elementary School, where he knew the NOPD had set up a temporary station, and where he thought they could get help.

Bad move.

The cops stationed at Habans were in lockdown and panic mode. When the Malibu pulled up, Glover's friend, his brother, and Tanner were all handcuffed, roughed up, and detained. Officer Gregory McRae took off in Tanner's Malibu, which was later discovered abandoned on the back side of a remote levee. It had been torched with police flares. Glover's charred cadaver was still in the back seat.

Thus was set in motion the Escher paradigm that became Glover's official status as a dead man—one step forward, two steps back. Over time, he became not just a victim of a deranged era, but a potent symbol of that era.

Henry Glover became a flashpoint for broken law enforcement in the wake of the storm. He even became a plot point in HBO's Treme television series—a way of explaining how everything went wrong through the story of one for whom nothing went right.

Those witnessing from a distance marveled at just how dysfunctional this city turned out to be.

It's no secret that the New Orleans Police Department was corrupt long before Katrina dealt her wrath. The shootings and lootings perpetrated by police officers in the storm's immediate aftermath were among the first headlines to be dispatched from the broken city. The wholesale theft of a fleet of Cadillacs from a downtown auto dealer by NOPD rank and file gave us a comic rendering of the term commandeered.

Those witnessing from a distance marveled at just how dysfunctional this city turned out to be. And it was that institutionalized—and officially sanctioned—dysfunction that allowed Glover's case to remain in limbo for nearly a decade.

A key player in in all this was the original coroner on the case, Frank Minyard, a glib, amiable, and aged politician better known for his trumpet playing at campaign events than any actual keen interest in law enforcement.

Minyard, who held the elected position for more than four decades, was a power broker by default and longevity. The coroner's office was his personal fiefdom, affording him an astonishing amount of independence and clout. Throughout his time in office, he was never abashed about his support for the police and his inclination to side with the shield whenever a case was too close to call.

Not many rational folks would be inclined to label Glover's case "too close to call," but injecting rationality in official proceedings in New Orleans has a been a difficult birthing process in the new New Orleans.

And only because of the media and the relentless pursuit of justice by Glover's family members did his case not go simply into that good night. Upon Minyard's long-overdue relinquishment of the Coroner's position in 2014, fresh eyes and open minds were finally able to prevail.

Jeffery Rouse issued a simple—if somewhat bureaucratic—announcement last week:

"It became very clear to me that the appropriate classification is homicide. That is simply from a medical standpoint, and simply means a death was caused by the intentional actions of another person. It is not a legal finding of manslaughter or justifiable or murder or anything of that nature."

It does, however, appear to open the door for the NOPD to finally investigate the death of Henry Glover. That would be interesting to witness, though it may all be too little too late or simply moot. (NOPD Public Affairs Officer Gary Flot told VICE this week that the superintendent has not released a statement or orders on the case since the coroner's finding.)

Into the void of justice left by the NOPD all these years, the Feds finally stepped into the breach several years ago in an attempt to even the scales—with less than impressive results.

Officer Warren was convicted in a 2010 trial for his role in Glover's death, but eventually acquitted in a second trial before resigning from the force last year, ducking federal civil rights charges along the way.

Lieutenant Dwayne Scheuermann, who followed Tanner's car when McRae took off with Glover in the backseat, was acquitted in 2010. Another officer on scene at the shopping center and the elementary school, Lieutenant Robert Italiano, was brought to trial for allegedly assisting in the coverup, and also acquitted.

Several other officers were disciplined for their roles in the conspiracy of silence and coverup, and a deputy superintendent was forced to retire. That leaves Gregory McRae as the only man serving time for the killing of Henry Glover—and he's got an appeal tentatively scheduled for June.

Tried once in 2010 and retried again last year, he received identical sentences of 17 years in prison for incinerating Henry Glover's body on the back side of a remote levee. Whether or not Glover was even dead before he was set on fire is still, as the former coroner was so fond of saying, undetermined.

This all serves as a small, symbolic victory for those who give a damn about the city, its reputation and its livability.

It's a disgraceful chapter in New Orleans history, and still far from over. Glover's family has long called for the state of Louisiana to go after Warren, Glover's killer, and are holding a press conference Wednesday asking District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro to press murder charges. Given the coroner's new ruling, he apparently has no choice but to investigate, even if Warren's lawyer says the double-jeopardy rule looms as a potential obstacle.

This all serves as a small, symbolic victory for those who give a damn about the city, its reputation and its livability.

Yes, it puts our ugliest history back in full public view, placing us once again before the court of public opinion. But what is one small step for the cause of justice in this city is also a giant leap for the cause of Henry Glover.

It's an old trope: Without justice for everyone, there is no justice for anyone. And only by the felling of the obstructions and obfuscations of old can we erase once and for all that ugly excuse for the crimes that still haunt us.

Chris Rose is a New Orleans-based freelance writer, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author of the New York Times bestseller 1 Dead in Attic.

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