New Orleans’ mayor said a dark chapter in the city’s history has closed with settlements totalling $13.3 million (about £10.8m) for relatives of four men killed by police around the time of Hurricane Katrina.
“We are here to proclaim from the highest mountaintop that the City of New Orleans … can transform itself from a city of violence into a city of peace,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said after a private prayer service with victims’ relatives and local officials.
He called the prayer service a way for the city to say publicly “how intensely sorry I am” that “these individuals were looking for people to protect and serve, and they got the exact opposite”.
Mr Landrieu said the settlements with 17 plaintiffs end all civil lawsuits involving the killings. The City Council was “very strong in support” of the settlements, which will be paid out over two years, and approved bond sales to cover them, he said.
Sherrel Johnson, the mother of James Brissette, 17, who died in the 4 September, 2005 shootings, was among the relatives in the audience for Mr Landrieu’s announcement. She said she “wholeheartedly” accepts his apology.
“Since that time, it has been an awful long and rough road. But me and my family got through it,” she said.
Later, she added: “Now this is closure for me, and I can go forward … because I know the old New Orleans does not exist any more.”
Because criminal cases had to be dealt with first, the lawsuits have taken more than a decade to settle.
A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged in a series of investigations after the August 2005 storm. All but one of the cases centred on alleged police misconduct during the chaos that gripped the flooded city. Eleven officers pleaded guilty to charges related to deadly shootings less than a week after Hurricane Katrina’s landfall.
Officers shot and killed two unarmed people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge before engaging in a cover-up that included a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports.
Mr Brissette and Ronald Madison, 40, a mentally disabled man, were killed. Mr Madison’s brother, Lance, was arrested on false accusations that he shot at officers.
Five other officers were tried on charges relating to the death of Henry Glover, 31, who was fatally shot outside a strip mall before his body was burned. Two ex-officers were convicted of charges stemming from the fatal beating of Raymond Robair, 48, killed weeks before Katrina struck.