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Officer cleared in post-Katrina beating

Associated Press | July 25, 2007

MICHAEL KUNZELMAN

NEW ORLEANS -- A judge acquitted a former police officer seen on videotape beating a man during an arrest after Hurricane Katrina, saying the tape showed authorities didn't use excessive force.

Robert Evangelist, 37, was found not guilty of second-degree battery and false imprisonment of Robert Davis, 66, whose violent scuffle with police was captured by an Associated Press Television News crew.

District Judge Frank Marullo watched tapes of the beating and its aftermath and noted that Davis could be seen struggling on the tape for several minutes.

"This event could have ended at any time if the man had put his hands behind his back," the judge said Tuesday. "I didn't even find this a close call."

The Oct. 8, 2005, confrontation in the French Quarter came as the New Orleans Police Department struggled with the aftermath of Katrina.

"They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This video screams and hollers two words, and those two words are 'not guilty,'" said Franz Zibilich, an attorney for Evangelist.

The video also shows two FBI agents joining the police in subduing Davis. Federal officials said they would investigate their role. The agents were never indicted.

Marullo questioned why prosecutors didn't pursue charges against the FBI agents.

"You choose when and where and who to prosecute, and your choices were wrong," Marullo said. "Not guilty."

Davis and his attorney were approached by reporters after the ruling but left the courthouse through a side entrance without commenting.

Evangelist and former Officer Lance Schilling were fired after being accused in the beating, but Evangelist is appealing the dismissal. Schilling killed himself June 10.

A third officer, Stuart Smith, was accused of a misdemeanor charge of simple battery against AP producer Richard Matthews. Marullo threw out that charge because prosecutors improperly used a statement he made to police, said Smith's attorney, Eric Hessler. Smith served a 120-day suspension and remains on the force.

The police officers said Davis, who had returned to New Orleans to check his property, started a confrontation after they stopped him on suspicion of being drunk. Davis, who was booked on suspicion of public intoxication but never charged, said he hadn't been drinking.

Davis testified that he was headed to buy cigarettes when he asked a police officer what time a curfew took effect that night. Before the officer could answer, a different officer cut him off, Davis said.

"Those were ignorant, unprofessional and rude officers," Davis recalled saying as he walked away from the policemen.

Moments later, an officer grabbed him from behind, threw him against a wall and punched his face, Davis testified. His assailant uttered a racial epithet during the attack, he said.

"I don't remember very much after that point," Davis said. The three accused officers are white, and Davis is black. Davis said he does not believe race was an issue.

Dr. Frances Smith, who treated Davis at an emergency room, testified that he suffered facial fractures. Davis said he still feels lingering physical effects from the attack.

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