CHANDRA MCCORMICK AND KEITH CALHOUN
This article is republished courtesy ProPublica, where it originated. The original stories in this investigation were first published exclusively by The Nation on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008. They also appeared as the cover story of the Jan. 5, 2009 edition of The Nation magazine. A.C. Thompson’s reporting on New Orleans was directed and underwritten by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. ProPublica provided additional support, as did the Center for Investigative Reporting and New America Media.
Television news reports are casting new light on the violence that flourished in New Orleans in the anarchic days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The reports–broadcast Thursday by WTAE TV in Pittsburgh and WDSU in New Orleans–focus on two unsolved crimes: the near-fatal shooting of Donnell Herrington, who was allegedly attacked by a group of white vigilantes in the Algiers Point neighborhood, and the murder of Henry Glover, whose charred remains were discovered on a Mississippi River levee. Both victims are African American.
At the center of the news reports is a disturbing and grisly amateur video shot by a pair of private investigators in September 2005 and obtained recently by WTAE journalist Jim Parsons. (Full disclosure: This reporter was interviewed for the WTAE and WDSU stories.)
The private detectives, Mike Orsini and Istvan Balogh, are Pennsylvanians who traveled to New Orleans to volunteer in the wake of the storm. Orsini is a former police officer, while Balogh is an ex-corrections officer. They spent nearly two weeks camped out in Algiers Point, a middle class, largely white enclave nestled on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
On the video, a former Algiers Point resident talks calmly about shooting people. That man, Paul Gleeson claimed that he and his fellow gunmen shot 38 people and said that the victims were looters. Asked if any of the shooting victims died, Gleeson replied, “Who cares? I don’t (expletive) know. Who cares? What does it (expletive) matter?” The Algiers Point shootings, which have prompted an intensifying civil rights probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were exposed late last year in stories published by The Nation and ProPublica. While the neighborhood gunmen say that they were simply defending the community against thieves, other witnesses say that the group targeted black men and spewed racial epithets.
Orsini and Balogh say that they saw as many as five corpses lying around the neighborhood, which did not flood and suffered only minor wind damage. Orsini told WTAE, “Nobody took care of these bodies, and these were all individuals who had been shot.” The men videotaped one of the corpses, which was lying beneath a sheet of corrugated metal.