Reuters by Kathy Finn - April 11, 2012
NEW ORLEANS, LA - A judge on Wednesday sentenced a New Orleans police officer to 20 months in prison for lying about an incident in which he shot and killed an unarmed man in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Ronald Mitchell, 35, was convicted by a jury in December of obstruction of justice and perjury for saying he got out of his patrol car and checked on the condition of Danny Brumfield after shooting him, five days after the hurricane hit New Orleans. Mitchell said Brumfield, 45, lunged at him with "a shiny object" in his hand and that he shot Brumfield with his pistol-grip shotgun. Brumfield died in the street next to his family. Witnesses to the shooting outside the downtown convention center, including two fellow police officers, testified that Mitchell's patrol car did not stop. "We have waited a long time for this time to come," Brumfield's widow, Deborah Brumfield, said during the hearing. "You still have your family," she said, turning to Mitchell. "I hope while you're sitting behind those bars you remember how you fabricated (the story) about the man you shot." "I'm an innocent man about to go to prison," Mitchell said. His lawyer said he would appeal. U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance said prosecutors did not have enough evidence to charge Mitchell with a crime in the actual shooting of Brumfield, but that he did lie. "It could not have been clearer that you lied in your deposition about checking on Mr. Brumfield after you shot him," the judge said. The case arose from a federal wrongful death lawsuit filed by Brumfield's widow against the city of New Orleans. In connection with that suit, Mitchell and his partner, Ray Jones, testified in a deposition, and prosecutors later brought charges. Brumfield died outside the New Orleans convention center, where he was stuck with throngs of people seeking shelter from the flooded city. Some 1,500 people died in the disaster and thousands were left homeless. The jury acquitted Mitchell on charges that he lied about Brumfield threatening the officers, while Jones, 34, who drove the patrol car, was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice. Mitchell's sentencing came one week after five former New Orleans police officers received sentences ranging from six to 65 years for their role in the shootings of unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge following Hurricane Katrina. Among 18 police officers charged with violent crimes after the hurricane, 13 have been found guilty, three were acquitted and two cases remain unresolved.