NEW ORLEANS — A white man who spewed racial epithets before and after a shotgun attack on three black men amid the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in federal prison.
Roland Bourgeois Jr., 56, sat quietly in a wheelchair as U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon announced the sentence. He had pleaded guilty to two federal criminal counts in October, ending a years-long legal fight that was delayed numerous times amid questions about his mental and physical health. His sentencing resolved the last of the high-profile legal cases arising from violence that erupted at times in the city following the Aug. 29, 2005 storm.
The shooting happened roughly three days after Katrina hit the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf Coast. Power was out, levee failures had flooded most of New Orleans and emergency resources were strained.
Bourgeois fired a shotgun at three black men who were trying to evacuate the area, wounding one seriously. Prosecutors said that he and others had discussed shooting black people and defending the Algiers Point neighborhood of New Orleans from "outsiders" after the storm. Before and after the shooting, his conversations were punctuated with racial epithets. And, his original indictment said, he told one African-American neighborhood resident: "Anything coming up this street darker than a brown paper bag is getting shot."
Bourgeois was indicted in 2010.
Defense attorney Valerie Welz Jusselin argued for a sentence of five years in court Thursday. She noted Bourgeois' frail health. And she said the confusion and fear that was rampant in the city contributed to his behavior. She said even trained police officers mistakenly believed that martial law was in effect and that they had license to shoot at will at suspected looters.
Federal prosecutor Mary Hahn dismissed that characterization of the circumstances. The men who were shot — including one who was seriously wounded — were headed for a ferry, hoping to evacuate the city, not looters. She also noted evidence of Bourgeois' hate-filled statements and his waving around of a bloody cap belonging to one of the victims as though it were a trophy.
"This was a premeditated attempt to kill," Hahn said.
Bourgeois was freed on bond at one point after his indictment but was jailed in August 2017 for a bond violation. Documents show that, at the time he was arrested for violating conditions of his release, U.S. Marshals recovered 10 rifles and seven handguns from the residence where he was living.
A trial was avoided last October when Bourgeois pleaded guilty to "interference with rights" and "use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence," according to a plea agreement. That agreement said his prison sentence would be at least five years and at most 10 years.
In addition to the Bourgeois matter, other cases arising from post-Katrina violence included the deadly shooting by police officers of unarmed civilians at the Danziger bridge in the days after the storm — a case that led to eventual guilty pleas from several officers during a long and complicated court case.
In an unrelated post-Katrina case, five other officers were tried on charges related to the death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was fatally shot outside a strip mall before his body was burned. The officer who burned the body was the only one who stood convicted when the case was over. The officer who fatally shot Glover was convicted of manslaughter but was later acquitted by another jury after an appeals court awarded him a new trial.