Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Officers guilty over Katrina deaths

Demonstrators react as they receive word that five officers were convicted over the deadly shootings in New Orlean after Hurricane Katrina (AP)
Supporters of victims react after five officers were convicted over the deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina (AP)

A US jury has convicted five current or former police officers in deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina, a high-profile victory for the Justice Department in its push to clean up the city's troubled police department.

The case was a high-stakes test of the effort to rid the police department of 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 29, 2005, storm, which plunged the flooded city into a state of lawlessness and desperation.

Sergeants Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon were convicted of civil rights violations in the shootings that killed two people and wounded four others on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the storm. They face possible life prison sentences.

Retired Sgt Arthur "Archie" Kaufman and the other four men also were convicted of engaging in a brazen cover-up that included a planted gun, fabricated witnesses and falsified reports. The five men were convicted of all 25 counts they faced.

Shaun Clarke, a defence attorney and former federal prosecutor who moved from New Orleans to Houston after Katrina, said the verdicts are "critically important" to the Justice Department's reform efforts.

"It's a huge verdict for the government," he said. "Of all the cases concerning alleged misconduct by police officers after Katrina, this was the one that had the highest national profile."

Faulcon was found guilty of fatally shooting Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old mentally disabled man, but the jury decided his killing did not amount to murder. Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso were convicted over the death of 17-year-old James Brissette. Jurors did not have to decide whether Brissette was murdered because they did not hold any of the defendants individually responsible for causing his death.

Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the deadly encounter on the bridge, was not charged in the shootings.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who invited the Justice Department last year to conduct a thorough review of the police department, said the verdicts "provide significant closure to a dark chapter in our city's history".

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