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ProPublica

ProPublica

Posted: December 14, 2009 05:27 PM

By A.C. Thompson, ProPublica, Brendan McCarthy and Laura Maggi, New Orleans Times-Picayune

The following report was taken from Case Two of the Frontline, Times-Picayune and ProPublica investigative series "Law & Disorder: After Katrina, New Orleans Police Shot Frequently and Asked Few Questions."


Matt McDonald left his native Connecticut and headed to New Orleans in the summer of 2005, shortly before Hurricane Katrina struck and floodwaters engulfed the city. McDonald was a troubled soul, a heavy drinker who had lived on the streets, but he kept in touch with his family, calling from time to time.

After the storm, his brother John, an auto-body technician who lives in Norwich, Conn., began working the phones, reaching out to anyone in Louisiana he thought might know something. "I heard so many different things," John McDonald recalled.

John McDonald's wife, Kerry, spent the next month making one phone call after another. "It was such a big runaround," said Kerry McDonald, who recalled speaking to FEMA officials, American Red Cross staffers, New Orleans police officers and numerous others. "One person would say he was shot to death; the next would say he was found floating."

Eventually, despite the conflicting stories, one thing became clear: Matt was dead at 41. His body was identified by several distinctive tattoos, including the name of his daughter, Crystal, and a pair of black bat wings.

His girlfriend, Martha Dziadul, paid to cremate the body.

Four years later, a reporter looking at the conduct of the Police Department in the aftermath of the hurricane called Dziadul to ask whether she had ever seen the official report on McDonald's death. The document said a police officer armed with an AR-15 assault rifle had shot him to death on Sept. 3, 2005.

She was staggered. "They never, ever told me the police shot him. They told me it was a homicide," she said. "They said: We don't even know what day it happened because we weren't there."

Kerry McDonald said, "We were never told he was shot by the police."

Dziadul and McDonald family members said they could not recall the names of the NOPD officials they spoke with. But, they said, they were quite sure no one ever told them it was a police officer who killed Matt McDonald or that the slaying had been detailed in an official report.

The Times-Picayune, nonprofit investigative newsroom ProPublica and the PBS series "Frontline" joined forces to examine at least 10 police shootings of citizens during the week after Katrina (PDF) made landfall. Interviews and police documents show the department did little to determine whether these shootings were justified -- failing to track down civilian witnesses, collect evidence or thoroughly question officers who fired the shots.

Read the rest of the report here.

 

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