5 Police officers convicted of post-Katrina shootings
Compiled from various sources
published: 4WardEver UK – August 2011
Updates on this case are listed at the foot of this item
A federal jury has convicted five current or former police officers in the deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina on 4th September 2005. Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, was shot several times in the back and died at the scene. One of the officers, Kenneth Bowen, also stamped on him while he lay wounded. James Brissette, 17, a high school student who friends said was nerdy and studious, also died on the bridge. Four others people from the same family were also wounded, one losing part of her arm.
Federal authorities had begun an investigation into the shootings on the Danziger Bridge shortly after a local judge dismissed murder and attempted murder charges against seven policemen in 2008.
The city descended into anarchy after the hurricane and the police were overrun. The four officers that stood accused of the shootings on 4th September 2005 were Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Former officer Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso. They are also accused of obstructing justice, along with two other officers, Arthur Kaufman and Gerard Dugue.
All but Kaufman were convicted of civil rights violations stemming from the shootings. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, was charged only in the cover-up.
Previously police had said that the officers accused of the shooting and cover-up had acted appropriately and were responding to calls about gunfire. According to the indictment, the four officers fired on an unarmed family on the bridge, killing James Brissette, aged 17, and wounding four others.
The second shooting occurred minutes later on other side of the bridge, firing on two brothers, killing one of them, Roland Madison, aged 40, who had severe mental disabilities.
Faulcon was accused of shooting the latter in the back and Bowen is charged with stamping and kicking him while he was dying. The indictment accuses Kaufman and Dugue of joining the other four in attempting to cover up the shootings.
Police lieutenant Michael Lohman admitted taking the lead in efforts to manufacture evidence that the police shooting was legitimate. He described the events of that day in detail in sworn testimony before US District Judge Ivan Lemelle.
Lohman arrived at the bridge in response to the report of police opening fire, and immediately understood that it was a “bad shooting,” he told the court. None of the victims had been armed, and no shots had been fired at the police, so the evidence would not support a claim of self-defence. He therefore proceeded to manufacture evidence, while coaching the police on the scene so their statements would sustain the planned cover-up.
Lohman worked with two NOPD investigators, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and Sgt. Gerard Dugue, to concoct a report justifying the shootings. He described how he frequently discussed with Kaufman how to make the report “more plausible.”
At one point, he threw out the draft report the others had produced and wrote a 17-page substitute, in which he made changes such as increasing the number of policemen who had allegedly seen Ronald Madison throw a gun into the Industrial Canal. It transpired that there was no such weapon.
The additional three policemen then had to be told what they had “seen” so their statements would be in synch. Lohman’s report also falsified the testimony of the victims family’s, portraying them as admitting that shots had been fired on the police.
The trial was a high-profile test of the Justice Department’s effort to clean up a police department marred by a reputation for corruption and brutality. A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged last year  in a series of federal probes. Most of the cases centre on actions during the aftermath of the August 2005 storm which plunged the flooded city into a state of lawlessness and desperation.
Prior to the trial The US attorney-general, Eric Holder had said: “As our investigation of the Danziger bridge incident shows, the justice department will vigorously pursue anyone who allegedly violated the law. Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who have sworn to protect the public.”
Kaufman faced a maximum of 120 years in prison, and Dugue a maximum 70 years. Five other police officers admitted attempting to obstruct justice.
The police officers were yesterday found guilty on 25 counts after being convicted of the deaths of two unarmed African American civilians in the days after Katrina devastated the southern town.
In her closing arguments, Bobbi Bernstein, deputy chief of the US Justice Department’s civil rights division, rejected the idea that the officers were heroes, as argued by the defence.
She claimed an official cover-up had “perverted” the system, adding officers “delivered their own kind of post-apocalyptic justice.”
“The law is what it is because this is not a police state,” she said.
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