NEW ORLEANS — Four New Orleans police officers have been cleared of allegations that they looted a Wal-Mart store after Hurricane Katrina, but each was suspended 10 days for not stopping civilians from ransacking the store, the Police Department said.
The probe stemmed from an MSNBC report that showed the officers filling a shopping cart with shoes, clothes and other items. When a reporter asked the officers what they were doing, one responded, “Looking for looters” and turned her back.
Assistant Police Chief Marlon Defillo, commander of the Public Integrity Bureau, said the officers seen on the video were recently cleared of looting because they had received permission from superiors to take necessities for themselves and other officers.
The Police Department later informed Wal-Mart management, after the store had been secured, that its officers had taken some needed items, he said.
Suspended for 'neglect of duty'
The four officers — Olivia Fontenot, Vera Polite, Debra Prosper and Kenyatta Phillips — were suspended for 10 days without pay for “neglect of duty” because “people can be observed illegally inside the store with property in their possession and you took no police action to prevent or stop the looting,” according to their disciplinary letters.
Fontenot received an additional three-day penalty for her “discourteous” response to the MSNBC correspondent, her disciplinary letter states.
“It was determined that all four officers had received permission from their commanders to get clothing for fellow officers who were soaking wet,” Superintendent Warren Riley said through a spokesperson Friday. “They did not steal anything.”
Defillo said the officers were all assigned to the badly flooded 3rd Police District.
The department cleared two other officers who were investigated for looting at Wal-Mart based on photographs, Defillo said. He said those photos did not show other people looting, making it impossible to uphold suspensions for neglect of duty.
Two looting investigations involving police remain under investigation by federal authorities, Defillo said.
One involves the theft of about 200 vehicles from Sewell Cadillac Chevrolet and allegations that 3rd District commanders were involved in some of the thefts. The other involves a complaint from a hotel owner that a group of officers from the now-disbanded Community Policing squad kept a large stash of goods in one of the rooms.
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