A former New Orleans police officer charged in the videotaped beating of a man after Hurricane Katrina apparently shot himself to death about a month before his trial, authorities said Monday.
The body of Lance Schilling, 30, was found Sunday in a suburban Metairie home. An autopsy showed he died of a gunshot wound to the roof of the mouth, Jefferson Parish coroner’s office said.
Schilling and another former officer were accused of beating Robert Davis, 64, a retired schoolteacher who had returned to New Orleans to check on his property several weeks after the storm.
An Associated Press Television News team recorded Davis being kneed and struck at least four times on the head by two police officers the night of October 8, 2005.
Davis was booked on municipal charges of public intoxication, resisting arrest, battery on a police officer and public intimidation. All charges were later dropped.
Unrelated to trial, attorney speculates
Schilling’s attorney, Franz Zibilich, said he was saddened by his client’s death. He believed the
suspected suicide had no connection to the pending trial, which had been set for June 29. The former officer faced five years behind bars if convicted of the second-degree battery charge.
“The truth be known, he was looking forward to having this matter tried and heard,” Zibilich said.
New Orleans police spokesman Marlon Defillo said Schilling had not been with the department since December 2005.
In a related matter, charges against a third officer accused of a misdemeanor charge of simple battery against APTN producer Richard Matthews were dismissed on June 1, according to Eric Hessler, the officer’s lawyer. Stuart Smith was suspended for 120 days and remains on the police force. He had been accused of roughing up Matthews at the Bourbon Street scene in October 2005 after Matthews identified himself as working for the AP.
State District Judge Frank Marullo threw out the charge against Smith because prosecutors improperly used a statement Smith made to the police department, Hessler said.
“The police department asks him to come in, and compels him to give a statement and promises him that it will not be used in a criminal proceeding, and then turns around and gives it to the DA’s office,” Hessler said. “This Bourbon Street case was not handled properly from day one.”
Hessler said the district attorney’s office has filed notice it intends to appeal. A district attorney’s spokesman did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment Monday.