Hartley's Holdout on Esplanade Ridge

New Orleans attorney LeRoy Hartley was at home when Hurricane Katrina struck on Monday, August 29, 2005. He was one of the many holdouts who defied Mayor Nagin's evacuation order and remained in the city to protect their property. His was a stately, 12-column Greek Revival home that stood on a relatively high ridge of Esplanade Avenue and was not damaged by the rising water.

The hurricane had knocked out power to the entire city, and as darkness fell he could hear gunfire and the shouts of a marauding band of looters in his neighborhood. Eventually, a gang of more than 15 were at his rear gate, attempting to force it down. But Hartely was ready; he had powerful friends, and he owned a gun.

As a political operative, Hartley had helped elect his law partner, Charles Foti, to become Criminal Sheriff of Orleans Parish in 1973. In turn, Foti appointed him Deputy, and then Chief Deputy of Orleans Parish Prisons. Hartley's political activities also brought him into close contact with many members of the Louisiana State Legislature, some of whom he represented as an attorney. In 2003, Foti was elected Attorney General for the State of Louisiana, a post that he held from 2004 to 2008.

As the looters approached, Hartley used his cell phone to contact a former state senator, Dr. Mike Robichaux, who was also his personal physician. Robichaux immediately connected him into a three-way conference with Hunt Downer, a former Speaker of the House in the Louisiana Legislature under Governor Mike Foster, and now a brigadier general in the Louisiana National Guard.

"They're looting and rioting right down the street!" Hartley shouted into the phone. "You need to send troops now!"

"LeRoy, I don't have any troops to send you," Downer replied. "But I've got air power. I've got helicopters up. I'll have one fly over and check the neighborhood."

Within minutes, Hartley heard the sound of a helicopter. He grabbed his shotgun, ran to his back room and peered down into the yard. There, illuminated by the helicopter's searchlight was a crowd of thugs pushing down his rear gate.

The gate gave way, the thugs poured into the yard and Hartley, brandishing his Winchester rifle, screamed at them to back off.

One of the looters fired at Hartley and missed. Hartley returned fire with his shotgun, wounding two of the looters who now fled the property. The helicopter pursued them for blocks with its searchlight, but no one was available to apprehend them.

Eight days later, on September 6, 2005, a contingent of officers from the New Orleans Police Department was at Hartley's front gate, attempting to enforce a mandatory evacuation order. "Everyone has to leave the city. We'll make you leave if we have to," one of the officers warned.

"You're not making anyone leave," Hartley replied. I'm an attorney, and this is my home, and you damned well aren't setting foot on my property."

As the police prepared to leave, the officer exclaimed: "We'll come back with the Marines, and make your ass leave."

In the days that followed, Hartley was harassed several more times by NOPD officers, but he did not budge. Eventually, he was approached by two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They were taking guns from citizens and attempting to force everyone from the city. They had seen pictures of Hartley on the news, defending his property.

The defiant Hartley informed them that if they wanted to enter his house, they would have to come back with a warrant.

The agents left and never returned.

Hartley was never cited for discharging his weapon into a crowd of looters on August 29th, and there were no known repercussions to his law license because of his civil disobedience.

Carl Bernofsky
January 10, 2010


The quotations and other information used in this article were obtained from the following sources:

  • Gordon Hutchinson and Todd Masson, The Great New Orleans Gun Grab: Descent into Anarchy, Louisiana Pub. Co., Boutte, LA, 2007, Chapter 2, "Encounters on Esplanade," pp. 49-64.

  • "LeRoy Hartley – Attorney & Counselor At Law," http://www.leroyhartley.com/home.htm, accessed 12/30/09.

  • "Charles Foti," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Foti, accessed 01/02/10.