Reborn New Orleans shocked by alleged police beating of black man

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The confrontation occurred in the Bourbon Street area late on Saturday night. In addition to the battering of the man, identified as 64-year-old Robert Davis, a police officer also became aggressive with a member of the television news team, pinning him against a car and jabbing him in the stomach.

"It's a troubling tape, no doubt about it," said Marlon Defillo, a spokesman for the New Orleans Police Department, which has had a chequered track record of brutality as well as corruption.

"This department will take immediate action." The tape was delivered to senior officials by AP Television. It vividly shows the police officers tackling Mr Davis, who appeared to be seriously intoxicated at the time.

Normally, the New Orleans authorities avoid confronting drunken individuals in the Bourbon Street area, the heart of tourist revelry before Hurricane Katrina drowned the city.

There was no mistaking the ferocity of the police action against Mr Davis, however. He is seen on the tape flailing his arms helplessly as two of the officers punch him in the head twice and eventually drag him to the ground. Mr Davis is then seen lying face down on the pavement, with blood streaming down his face and arm into the gutter.

Four of the five police officers involved appear to be white and the fifth was described as light-skinned. Two of the men were later found to have been federal agents. The two police officers in custody for the assault on Mr Davis were named as Lance Schilling and Robert Evangelist.

A third officer facing charges was named as Stuart Smith, who is seen on the tape losing his temper with the television team.

When he demanded they stop filming the incident, an AP employee held up his press credentials and protested that he was merely doing his job.

"I've been here for six weeks trying to keep ... alive ... Go home!" the officer is heard to shout. It is then that he lunges for one of the producers, pushes him against the car and unleashes a tirade of profanities.

"The incidents taped by our cameraman are extremely troubling," said Mike Silverman, AP's managing editor. "We are heartened the police department is taking them seriously and promising a thorough investigation."

More than a month after Katrina, the police department in New Orleans is still reeling. Many of its officers vanished in the days after the storm, apparently unwilling or unable to help curb the violence and criminal activity that quickly took over the city. Late last month, its leader superintendent, Eddie Compass, resigned his position. There have also been several suicides among police officers.

Last week, officials revealed that they were investigating allegations that police officers broke into a car dealership as Katrina was advancing on New Orleans and made off with 200 new cars, including 41 luxury Cadillacs.

Mr Defillo said that Mr Davis had been charged with public intoxication, resisting arrest, battering a police officer and public intimidation. He has been treated for injuries sustained during the incident and was shown in police photographs with his right eye swollen shut and a cut on his right temple.