Cops Could Get Death in Post-Katrina Shootings

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It was death in the midst of death.

Three police officers pleaded not guilty today to Federal civil right charges in the shooting deaths of two unarmed men in the frenzied days following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The three cops, plus a former officer could face the death penalty if convicted of the killing of 19-year-old James Brisette.

Brissette was shot six times on New Orleans' Danziger Bridge.

The fourth officer is also charged in the death of Ronald Mattison, a 40-year-old mentally impaired man. He was shot in the back.

"It ripped my heart out," Brisette's mother, Sherrell Johnson told CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod. "Even now."

Some of their colleagues celebrated when the officers twice beat state charges in connection with the shooting, which happened when they responded to reports of gunfire on the bridge in the chaotic days after Hurricane Katrina.

They claimed they were shot at. No gun was found on Brissette.

Since February, federal prosecutors have charged 16 current or former NOPD officers for crimes committed following Katrina.

Five have already pleaded guilty for covering up the Brissette shooting.

"We are going to try and build the best police department in the country," said New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu. "We have a very long way to go."

The mayor has asked the Justice Dept. for help cleaning up the force, which has long been plagued for what many see as a culture of corruption. There have been allegations of unconstitutional searches, extensive racial profiling and a failure to protect certain neighborhoods.

There are now eight Federal probes underway in New Orleans. This is where Brissette's mother wants justice.

"You killed my child," said Johnson. "You deserve to die too."

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.