NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A New Orleans police officer was laughing after he burned the body of a man who had been gunned down by police in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, a fellow officer testified Thursday.
The testimony came during the trial of officer Greg McRae and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann, who are charged with burning the body of 31-year-old Henry Glover in a car after he was shot and killed by a different officer outside a strip mall on Sept. 2, 2005. Three other current and former officers also are charged in Glover’s death.
Lt. Joseph Meisch testified Thursday that he was standing outside a police station near the Mississippi River when he saw a car followed by a pickup truck driving on a levee. McRae was driving the car and Scheuermann was driving the truck, according to prosecutors.
Moments after the car drove off the levee, Meisch saw a plume of thick, black smoke.
Meisch didn’t know who was driving the vehicles until McRae and Scheuermann ran toward him. Scheuermann had a blank look on his face, but McRae was laughing, Meisch said.
“Laughing like somebody had just played a joke?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracey Knight asked.
“It could have been humorous or nervous laughter,” he said.
Meisch said he asked what had happened, and McRae told him not to worry about it.
“I got it,” Scheuermann added, according to Meisch.
McRae’s lawyer, Frank DeSalvo, has conceded that his client burned the body. DeSalvo said in his opening statement that McRae was under stress from Katrina’s harsh conditions when he made a “very bad decision” to toss a flare in the car. Jeffrey Kearney, one of Scheuermann’s attorneys, has said his client didn’t know McRae was going to set the car on fire.
Meisch said he didn’t check on the car until four or five days later. When he looked into the back seat, he saw what appeared to be a ribcage.
“It kind of actually scared me,” he said.
But he didn’t tell anybody about his discovery, assuming Scheuermann was handling it, Meisch said.
“It did raise some suspicion in my mind,” he said. “But, again, Lt. Scheuermann said he’s got it.”
Meisch said he didn’t discuss the matter with Scheuermann again until 2009, after federal authorities started investigating Glover’s death. Meisch said Scheuermann told him that they wouldn’t deny what happened and that McRae had made a “stupid mistake.”
A former officer, David Warren, is charged with shooting Glover. Prosecutors say Glover wasn’t armed and didn’t pose a threat to Warren.
Scheuermann and McRae are accused of beating people who drove Glover to a makeshift police headquarters in search of help. The three men were handcuffed when the officers drove off with the car containing Glover’s body.
Former Lt. Robert Italiano and Lt. Travis McCabe are accused of falsifying a report to make it appear Glover’s shooting was justified.
In other testimony Thursday, a federal agent deployed in New Orleans after Katrina said he interviewed William Tanner, the owner of the burned car, about a month after the shooting. Tanner had driven Glover, Glover’s brother and a friend to the school, where he claims they were beaten before the officers drove off with his car.
John Schmidt, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, said he recounted Tanner’s story to Italiano because he supervised the investigative unit for the police district where the shooting and alleged beatings occurred.
“He said he was going to take care of it,” Schmidt recalled Italiano saying.
But prosecutors say Italiano helped cover up the incident and lied to the FBI about his knowledge of the shooting and burned car.