NEW ORLEANS -- A defense attorney in the Danziger police shooting case tells Eyewitness News several former high ranking NOPD officers claim then-second-in-command Warren Riley told them to shoot looters in the days after Hurricane Katrina.
"We are targeting looters," Riley told reporters on September 5, 2005. "We are targeting people who want to create mayhem in this city."
The then deputy police superintendent spoke one week after Katrina roared through New Orleans, flooding the streets and creating an atmosphere of chaos throughout the city.
"We continue to lock down this city to ensure that looters and any violent criminals have a very serious force to address," said Riley.
Defense attorney Frank DeSalvo said some officers claim that behind the scenes, Riley took it a step further and ordered them to "shoot looters" and "take back the city."
"A lot of people have told us that he said that, that were at that meeting, who I have no reason to disbelieve," said DeSalvo.
DeSalvo represents former NOPD Sgt. Kenneth Bowen. Bowen and three other former officers are accused of shooting unarmed civilians on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Katrina.
DeSalvo just returned from Washington where he tried to convince a justice department committee not to seek the death penalty. He said Riley's "shoot the looters" comments will be a factor in the defense strategy to clear the officers.
"Put in the backdrop of all the chaos and all the information of all the armed gunman taking over the city, and police officers being shot, and in that particular case, a radio call that two police officers were shot and down," said DeSalvo.
Warren Riley's attorney Robert Jenkins said claims that Riley gave a shoot to kill order are nothing but lies.
He singles out one of Riley's accusers, Cpt. Harry Mendoza. Riley accused Mendoza of neglecting his duties and fired him. The city civil service board later reinstated Mendoza.
"This is something where an officer was fired by the chief of police, Chief Riley, and he's making false statements against him," said Jenkins. "As a matter a fact, there are many other officers that support it didn't happen."
Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino said the shoot the looters defense may go to state of mind, but it's not enough to clear the officers.
"I engaged in otherwise illegal activity because I was ordered to do it by my superiors is not something that's recognized in Louisiana law or even international law as a defense to homicide among other crimes," said Ciolino.
Defense attorneys say they expect to know if federal prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty in the Danziger case by Sept. 10. That case is now set for trial next summer.