A federal judge on Thursday handed down a 10-year-prison sentence to a white man who pleaded guilty to shooting three young African-American men in a racist attack during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Roland Bourgeois, 56, received his sentence nine years after his initial indictment in the shootings. After the Category 5 storm ravaged the city of New Orleans in 2005, Bourgeois admitted to firing a shotgun at the men because they were Black and had crossed into his neighborhood.
The men, all of whom were injured, were attempting to evacuate through Algiers Point to a reach a ferry landing that state and federal authorities had turned into an evacuation point, according to The Advocate. Court documents filed alongside his plea deal last fall showed that Bourgeois and several other white men in the area had banded together to form their own vigilante group set on shooting any “outsiders” who dared cross their path.
To keep folks out, Bourgeois and the others used fallen trees to barricade the streets near their homes and patrolled the area with guns because the “n—–s” were “tearing up” New Orleans. He had a shotgun in tow and had handed a pistol to his then-15-year-old son.
Shots rang out as the Black men crossed one of the makeshift barricades on the way to the ferry landing that day in September 2005. One victim, Donnell Herrington, was struck in the neck and back, while the two others were hit in their arms, legs and backs.
As the men fled, Bourgeois reportedly bragged that he “got one” and threatened to kill “that n—-r.” Court documents allege he also told a neighbor,” Anything coming up this street darker than a brown paper bag is getting shot.” He also showed others a bloody baseball cap that had fallen off the head of one of the victims.
The powerful hurricane left much of the city underwater and in ruins, after which a false narrative of rampant looting and violence by poor Black residents quickly emerged. A fuller picture of the aftermath revealed violence by white vigilantes, police killings and attempted cover-ups, The New York Times reported.
“Hurricane Katrina was a tragic chapter in the history of our city,” Peter G. Strasser, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said in a recent press release. “Hopefully this plea brings some measure of finality to those directly affected by this crime and to this great city that endured so much in the days following this calamity.”
At the time of his 2010 indictment, Bourgeois claimed he shot the men because he suspected them of looting. He later admitted that they weren’t looting and had posed no threat to him or his neighbors.
Prosecutors noted the court proceedings took a particularly long time because Bourgeois was repeatedly found incompetent to stand trial. According to The New York Times, his competency has been evaluated six times since 2010, and he was ultimately declared competent in 2018.
Bourgeois was charged five years for each of the two counts of interference with the rights of the men he shot at and use of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, a Justice Department spokesman said. He was also given five years of supervised release.