|Sacrifice in New Orleans|
She said, “I was in the other room and all of a sudden I heard my daughter, who was then 15, cry out, ‘My Daddy! My Daddy!’ I know there is no gentle way to tell someone about something like that, but that is not the way.”
The five officers who lost their lives during the “Howard Johnson Tragedy” are among 102 officers who have made the supreme sacrifice during the history of the New Orleans Police Dept. The first was Superintendent David C. Hennessy, who had a reputation for aggressive crime fighting.
The citizens loved him, but he was not a popular man among the outlaws. On the night of October 16, 1890, as he walked home from work, he was shot and killed during a brutal ambush. There was great outrage throughout the City and a committee of 50 citizens was formed to help identify and punish the assassins. Ultimately, a number of conspirators were identified and 19 suspects were arrested and indicted for the murder of Superintendent Hennessy.
After a jury brought in a verdict of not guilty for six of the accused and a mistrial was declared for three others, an angry mob stormed the prison and vigilante justice was swiftly carried out. Nine of the accused were shot to death and two were hanged.
Ten more officers would die in the line of duty before the turn of the century, and the 1900s did not start out any better for the New Orleans Police Department. On July 27, 1900, Captain John Day and Patrolman Peter J. Lamb were both killed in a shootout.
The next day two other New Orleans lawmen, Sergeant Gabriel J. Porteous and Corporal John F. Lally were both killed trying to arrest the suspect. Jailer Andrew Van Kuren also died in the hail of gunfire, along with the assailant.
Another infamous shootout in New Orleans police history occurred on August 2, 1917. A suspended police officer by the name of Terrence Mullen forced his way into the office of Police Superintendent James W. Reynolds. Mullen, with pistol in hand, demanded to know when he would be put back to work. He shouted, “I am hungry and I want work and want it right away.” Other officers attempted to intervene, but before they could do so, Mullen grabbed Superintendent Reynolds and shot him dead. Gunfire erupted as other officers responded. More than 50 shots were fired in the stationhouse, and during the confusion someone shouted, “Big Mullen is crazy and shooting everybody.”
In a tragic twist of fate, another member of the Department named Mullen, Captain Garry Mullen, was seen with a pistol in each hand. He was coming to the aid of his fallen Superintendent, but was mistaken for the assailant and was also shot and killed by his fellow officers.
On March 4, 1995, Officer Ronald A. Williams II was working an off-duty security job at a local restaurant when it was robbed. Officer Williams, 25, and two of the restaurant owner’s children were shot and killed.
In a strange turn of events, another New Orleans police officer, Antoinette Frank, was arrested for the robbery and murders. She had returned to the scene of the crime soon after it occurred, seemingly to investigate along with a large contingent of other officers. She was identified by other members of the restaurant owner’s family, who had hidden during the robbery, and witnessed her and her boyfriend-accomplice commit the robbery and murders. Frank had also worked off-duty security at the restaurant and Officer Williams had considered her a friend. Frank and her accomplice were both convicted and sentenced to be executed for the crimes.
Of the 102 New Orleans officers who died in the line of duty, 65 were shot to death, but the second leading cause of death has been motorcycle crashes, which have caused 13 police fatalities. One of those officers was Lawrence H. Pool, who was killed when he was thrown 82 feet from his motorcycle during a crash that occurred on March 14, 1956. Three of the most recent deaths occurred in 2004 when Officer Alva Ray Simmons died from injuries he suffered during a line-of-duty shooting in 1985; Officer George A. Tessier III was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer on the side of a busy highway while waiting to escort a vehicle with military explosives; and Officer LaToya Johnson was shot and killed – one of two female officers, along with Reserve Officer Johnnie Mae Clanton, to have been killed in the line of duty during the Department’s history.
The brutal murder of Officer Johnson is convincing evidence that cop killers do not distinguish between males and females, they just see blue. On August 9, 2004, when Officer Johnson went to serve the commitment papers on a mentally ill individual, the man opened fire, striking the 27-year-old officer in the head. The crazed gunman then stood over her and continued firing until his gun was empty. Officer Johnson left behind a 10-year-old daughter, Raven.
Denise Verrett had experienced the same tragedy many years earlier. In 1967, at the age of 12, her father, New Orleans Police Sergeant Lloyd Verrett Sr., was shot and killed during an armed robbery at the Mighty Duke Lounge in Uptown. The robbers were holding a woman hostage. Sergeant Verrett went in to try to talk them into freeing the woman and they shot him instead. The woman survived. After LaToya Johnson’s death, Denise was asked if she had any advice for Raven. She said, “I would tell her this: ‘Cherish the memories of your mother and know that she died doing something she loved.’”
Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Visit www.nleomf.com for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.