Officers guilty over shootings that shamed New Orleans

 

In a dramatic act of delayed justice, a jury in New Orleans last night delivered guilty verdicts against five former and current officers of the city's police department stemming from the infamous Danziger Bridge shootings that came six days after Hurricane Katrina as well as the elaborate cover-up that followed.

While sentencing of the five will not come until December, the verdicts should help to lower the curtain on an episode that drew worldwide attention and shamed the whole city. They also delivered a marked success to federal prosecutors even though none of the defendants was charged with actual murder.

"This was a critical verdict. I cannot overstate the importance of this verdict. The power, the message it sends to the community, the healing power it has," US Attorney Jim Letten said emerging from the courthouse.

The high-stakes case was at the heart of a much wider and ongoing effort by the federal Justice Department under President Barack Obama to investigate and clean up the NOPD, which in the years since Katrina, and indeed before, was widely seen as polluted by corruption and brutality.

Nothing came to symbolise the darkness within the department, however, more than the Danziger shootings case, which began when a group of officers in a white rental van sped to the bridge that spans a canal just to the east of the city to respond to what they thought was gunfire from civilians. In fact, there had been none, but the officers nonetheless opened fire on pedestrians on the bridge the instant they piled out of the van.

The carnage that followed has been well documented. Among a family group cowering behind a concrete divider, one, James Brissette, 17, was shot dead, while others were severely wounded. One woman effectively had her arm blown off. Of two brothers trying to run away, meanwhile, one, Ronald Madison, was fatally shot in the back. It was established later that none of the victims had in fact been armed.

After a trial that lasted five weeks, the jury convicted former officer Robert Faulcon, Sgts Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and retired Sgt Arthur Kaufman in the case. All but Kaufman were found guilty both of trying to cover up the killings as well as violating the civil rights of the victims in a way that resulted in death. The first four could face up to life in prison, experts said.

Kaufman, who was appointed to conduct the NOPD's own investigation into the shootings, was charged only for the cover-up. Testimony from officers who sought plea deals said it involved a planted gun (found by Kaufman in his own garage), phoney witnesses and meetings between officers to ensure everyone had their stories straight. As part of the cover-up, Lance Madison, the brother of Ronald, who was killed, was himself arrested and put in jail on false charges of firing the gun and attempting to kill police officers.

This case, coupled with the federal probe, has "decimated" the police department, Peter Scharf, a professor of criminology at Tulane University, warned last night, saying the NOPD has been "demonised" to the point of collapse. "The question is what happens next?" he asked in an interview. "How do you move from a smashed police department to a functional police department?"

Central to the trial was debate about whether the confusion left by Katrina meant the police action should be judged by different standards. "It is a time of disorder, chaos and lawlessness. That doesn't mean the rules change, but the perception changes," defence lawyer Paul Fleming said. But prosecutors argued otherwise. "They thought because of Katrina no one was watching," said Assistant US Attorney Theodore Carter. "They thought they could do what they wanted to do."

The mother of James Brissette, one of the two who died on the bridge, said she was relieved last night after "a long, hard six years" of campaigning for justice. She nonetheless expressed puzzlement that the men could not have been charged with murder. "How are you able to empty a shotgun in the person and it's not murder?" Sherrel Johnson asked.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick