The Police Association of New Orleans held a fund-raiser over the weekend supporting Special Operations unit veterans Capt. Jeff Winn and Lt. Dwayne Scheuermann and the police officer union’s rapidly depleting legal defense budget. Winn and Scheuermann are under federal investigation in connection with the death of Henry Glover, whose remains were found in the burned shell of the car he was last seen in after being delivered wounded into police custody by civilians. The two SWAT officers are also under investigation for the shooting of Keenon McCann, who was wounded by the officers for threatening officers with a gun that has not surfaced.
The fund-raising event for PANO was heavily promoted on Facebook by a page called “Support Jeff Winn,” which has attracted nearly 2,000 “fans” and a wealth of wall posts by friends, family, colleagues, and supporters of the two officers. Some of those posts were written by Scheuermann and Winn themselves, or at least by Facebook accounts that seem to belong to them.
Their posts, and the supportive messages of others, reveal an alternative interpretation of their service after Katrina that is heavy on depictions of war-like chaos in the aftermath of the levee failure – and light on anything specific about the incidents for which the two officers are being investigated. Still, they don’t avoid their case entirely, and overall, it is surprising for the targets of the investigations to be so cavalier in their use of a public forum given their current public and legal vulnerability.
Though most of the Facebook content consists of messages of support, other posts are incredibly offensive, including a photograph of a patch sold to raise money for PANO that depicts Jeff Winn aiming a firearm with the letters WWJWD for “what would Jeff Winn do.”
One consistent ally and content provider for the Support Jeff Winn page is the writer Chuck Hustmyre, who has written stories lionizing the service of Winn, Scheuermann, and other NOPD officers after Katrina for publications such as New Orleans Magazine and truTV. The truTV piece recounts rescue efforts but also paints a picture of Armageddon that the officers and their supporters refer to as a critical context that the public has forgotten.
When Katrina struck New Orleans on Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, it carried with it a tidal wave of chaos and violence. In the aftermath of the hurricane, looters plundered stores in broad daylight. They posed for pictures and talked to reporters. Bands of thugs, armed with guns stolen from pawn shops and sporting goods stores, roamed the streets. They robbed, raped, and pillaged their way across the dry parts of the city. Police stations came under attack. Rescue helicopters were shot at. Relief trucks got hijacked. Buildings burned out of control. Hospitals ran out of fuel for their emergency generators. Patients died.
Hustmyre, in posts on Facebook, however, defends his work and that of Winn and Scheuermann in crude terms.
Winn and Scheuermann, as high-ranking officers in Special Operations, were respected by their colleagues. With the disaster response of the federal, state, and municipal government bungled as it was, NOPD officers were the only on-the-ground authority during the storm.
The NOPD was maligned for desertions and looting of their own during the storm, fortifying the defensive position of those who, like Winn and Scheuermann, remained at their posts. Perhaps that is why they have become the public face of PANO’s fund-raising efforts and not, for instance, those allegedly involved in the Danziger Bridge cover-up conspiracy. That Winn and Scheuermann’s legend of heroism is now crumbling symbolizes the larger erosion of the public’s confidence in the NOPD and its officers and deepens the frustration of those who truly believe that SWAT’s valor during Katrina was uncompromised.