Two New Orleans police officers were arrested and fired from the force earlier this week after attacking another patron at a bar while they were off-duty.
A report from The New Orleans Advocate based on newly released court records Thursday reveals that the two officers, Spencer Sutton, 24, and John Galman, 26, confronted the man, Jorge Alberto “George” Gomez, because he was wearing a camouflage shirt.
As the Advocate reported, Sutton claimed not to remember what happened when questioned by investigators, but according to Gomez, the altercation began when Galman approached Gomez, said he was a Marine, and asked Gomez if he had served in the military.
Gomez, a U.S. native raised in Honduras who now lives in New Orleans, said Galman asked him if he was even “American.” He speaks Spanish and English with a slight accent and said he served in Louisiana’s Army National Guard and served a tour of duty in Iraq.
“He told me I was a fake American and that I was not in the National Guard, either,” Gomez recently told local TV station WDSU, the cuts and bruises on his face still visible. “They started telling me that he was going to kill me.”
He added, “We don’t need that kind of police officer in the city of New Orleans.”
According to another bar patron who reportedly witnessed the argument, Galman struck Gomez with “an opened hand and a fist.” Gomez told WDSU that the pair never identified themselves as police officers and that the attack began as he started to leave the bar.
Gomez was hospitalized due to his injuries.
Both officers now face simple battery charges, a misdemeanor offense, but police said in a statement investigators were examining whether the case “meets the elements of a potential civil rights violation.”
The Advocate reported Thursday that other members of law enforcement were told by the two officers that they were defending themselves after Gomez attacked them with a walking stick, which Gomez uses for his back problems.
Gomez’s beating could have reverberations throughout the community. A study from 2016 found that calls to 911 fell dramatically in black neighborhoods in Milwaukee after a story of police beating a black man made headlines in 2005.
“After publicized episodes of police violence, 911 calls reporting crime dropped in predominantly black neighborhoods. They dropped by a lot and they stayed lower than expected for months and months,” lead author Matthew Desmond of Harvard’s sociology department told ThinkProgress’ Alan Pyke when the study was published two years ago.
In the incident cited in Desmond’s study, a group of off-duty cops attacked a man, Frank Jude, who they believed had stolen a friend’s police badge. They cut his face and jammed pens in his ears, causing them to bleed for weeks. Some on-duty cops joined them. The group broke bones in Jude’s head and hands, held a gun to his head, and left him in a pool of blood.
Notably, the study only cited that single local case and the local reaction. However, its authors also found that 911 calls dipped in Milwaukee after the NYPD killed Sean Bell, another Black man, in 2006, a case that made headlines. By contrast, they found no significant change in reporting after a Bay Area Transit Police officer shot and killed Oscar Grant, an unarmed Black civilian, in 2009.