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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two Cops Charged in 2005 Death

Justice for Raymond Robair
The Times-Picayune - EDITORIAL - August 3, 2010

For five years now, relatives and friends of Raymond Robair have insisted that the Treme resident's death was not an accident, as New Orleans police and the coroner's office concluded in 2005. Treme resident Raymond Robair was 48 when he died. Now a federal grand jury has agreed, charging New Orleans police Officer Melvin Williams with beating Mr. Robair to death and Officer Matthew Dean Moore with covering up the killing. The officers maintain they are innocent, and they are entitled to the legal presumption of innocence. But the allegations cited in the indictment are repugnant -- and the FBI and federal prosecutors deserve credit for staying on the case all this time. The officers have said they encountered Mr. Robair on Dumaine Street the morning of July 30, 2005. Their "medical incident" report, which did not even identify Mr. Robair by name, said they found a man "stumbling and holding his upper chest area." The man ran away from the officers and collapsed on the ground, according to the report, whereupon the officers took him to Charity Hospital. Mr. Robair was pronounced dead there. That's not what Treme residents, including some who testified in front of the grand jury, said they witnessed. According to the indictment, Officer Williams kicked Mr. Robair and struck him with his police baton with such "unreasonable force" that it caused Mr. Robair's death. The two officers did take Mr. Robair to Charity Hospital, but the indictment said "they failed to tell medical personnel that Robair had been struck by defendant Williams." The coroner's office found that Mr. Robair had fractured ribs, with one lacerating his liver and another his spleen. The federal grand jury also charged Officers Williams and Moore with filing their "false" police report in order to obstruct an investigation into the incident. It also accused Officer Moore of lying to FBI agents during two separate interviews in March. The document said Officer Moore falsely told the agents that Officer Williams never hit or kicked Robair. Orleans Parish Coroner Frank Minyard ruled in 2005 that Mr. Robair's death was "accidental," based in part, he said, on the police version of events. A Police Department internal investigation cleared the officers, citing the coroner's conclusion. Those circular explanations are troubling. The charges in this case make it 18 current and former New Orleans officers charged with either killing civilians or covering up the killings. Five of those officers have admitted to their part in covering up the shooting of six innocent civilians at the Danziger Bridge. Eighteen officers charged with such serious crimes is a sickening tally -- and more indictments are expected as federal agents probe additional police killings after Katrina. This has been a dark period for the Police Department, and shining light on officers' many alleged crimes has been painful for our community. But the real and intolerable shame would be to let killers and other criminals wear the uniform. Authorities should not rest until every officer who broke the law has been brought to justice.

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