The three cases include some of the most brutal and high-profile instances of police violence in recent memory, predating the era of Ferguson, North Charleston and Black Lives Matter.
“There were angels among us that we never knew,” the mayor said of those days in 2005, when the city was flooded and nearly anarchic. “But evidently, there were demons as well.”
He offered an apology on behalf of the city and spoke of the strides the New Orleans Police Department had made under extensive federal oversight, in what he called “the most comprehensive consent decree in the history of the United States.” He also said that the 17 plaintiffs had offered forgiveness in return.
Some at the news conference confirmed this forgiveness. Others, like Lance Madison, 60, who was unable to attend, were less sure. “I try and pray that I can, but it’s very hard, and I’m still struggling with that,” he said.
The idea of closure has never occurred to Mr. Madison, not since Sept. 4, 2005, when a police officer shot his developmentally disabled brother in the back beside him as they were walking across the Danziger Bridge in the flooded city. Mr. Madison was arrested on the scene, charged with attempted murder and jailed for weeks. When he got out and the true story of what had happened that day was slowly revealed, justice remained agonizingly elusive. It still is, he said.
“I guess the only thing that ends is we don’t go back to court anymore,” he said. “It may be closure for them, but it will probably never be closure for me.”
The plaintiffs include family members of Raymond Robair, a 48-year-old handyman who was beaten to death by a police officer in the Tremé neighborhood less than a month before Hurricane Katrina.
They also include relatives of Henry Glover, who was shot on Sept. 2, 2005, by a rookie police officer guarding a strip mall. A flagged-down passer-by drove the dying Mr. Glover to a makeshift police outpost, where officers allegedly detained and beat the driver and two members of Mr. Glover’s family. They then burned the car with the body inside.
Two days later, across the city, several unarmed people, including the Madison brothers, were walking across the Danziger Bridge when officers responding to a report of police under fire showed up in a rented truck and began firing, killing two and badly wounding four. A wide-ranging cover-up then began on the spot.
The cases brought intense federal scrutiny. Almost immediately after taking office in 2010, Mr. Landrieu invited the Justice Department to conduct a top-down civil investigation of the New Orleans police. The findings, broad and devastating, led to a federal consent decree, a judicially enforced reform plan that is still in place.
“I just hope and pray that it continues,” said LaShonda Enclade, 39, a daughter of Mr. Robair. She said the storm had uncovered, rather than caused, this level of police brutality.
The routes of the individual cases were not nearly as straightforward. They all went to trial in federal court from November 2010 to August 2011. Three of the five officers on trial in the Glover case were convicted. Two officers were convicted in connection with Mr. Robair’s death, and five in the killings on the Danziger Bridge and the cover-up.
But the setbacks began almost immediately. The officer who shot Mr. Glover at the strip mall had his conviction tossed by an appeals court and was acquitted in a 2013 retrial. Another officer in that case, convicted of taking part in a cover-up, had his conviction overturned as well and was never retried.
A federal judge, citing prosecutorial misconduct, ordered a new trial for the five officers convicted in connection with the Danziger Bridge killings. Those officers ultimately pleaded guilty and received significantly reduced sentences.
The criminal cases, drawn-out as they were, are now closed, with some having been resolved just this year. This opened the way for the longstanding civil claims against the city, filed in federal court by relatives of victims as well as victims themselves, including some of those permanently wounded on the bridge.
The city’s apology on Monday opened something else for Sherell Johnson, the mother of James Brissette, 17, who was killed on the Danziger Bridge. She now, after 11 years of waiting, felt she could finally bury his ashes.