Two New Orleans police officers repeatedly punched a 64-year-old man accused of public intoxication, and another city officer assaulted an Associated Press Television News producer as a cameraman taped the confrontations.
After being questioned, the three officers were arrested late Sunday and charged with battery. They were then released and ordered to appear in court at a later date, Capt. Marlon Defillo said.
"We have great concern with what we saw this morning," Defillo said after he and about a dozen other high-ranking police department officials watched the APTN footage Sunday. "It's a troubling tape, no doubt about it. ... This department will take immediate action." The assaults come as the department, long plagued by allegations 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 man at least four times in the head Saturday night as he stood outside a bar near Bourbon Street. The suspect, Robert Davis, appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers. Another of the four officers then kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was face-down on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter.
Police said Davis, 64, 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 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.
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 hit Matthews is white. Defillo said race was not an issue.
Three of the five officers including Smith are New Orleans officers, and two others appeared to be federal officers. Numerous agencies have sent police to help with patrols in the aftermath of Katrina. Under normal circumstances, it takes unusually offensive behaviour to trigger an arrest on Bourbon Street. But New Orleans police have been working under stressful conditions since the hurricane. Officers slept in their cars and worked 24-hour shifts after the storm. Three-quarters lost their homes and their families are scattered across the country.
Many officers deserted their posts in the days after Katrina, and some were accused of joining in the looting that broke out. At least two committed suicide.
On Friday, state authorities said they were investigating allegations that New Orleans police broke into a dealership and made off with nearly 200 cars including 41 new Cadillacs as the storm closed in, reported AP.