Justice in New Orleans: New Orleans police officers convicted in post-Katrina shootings face sentencing

CNN) — Five former New Orleans police officers who were found guilty of shooting unarmed civilians on New Orleans’ Danziger Bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will be sentenced Wednesday.

The shootings occurred on Danziger Bridge on September 4, 2005, six days after much of New Orleans went underwater after the powerful hurricane slammed into the Gulf Coast.

Prosecutors contend the officers opened fire on an unarmed family, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others.

Minutes later, one of the officers shot and killed Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man described by Justice Department officials as having severe mental disabilities.

Madison was trying to flee the scene when he was shot, according to a Justice Department statement. One of the officers allegedly “stomped and kicked” Madison before he died, the statement noted.

in August, Officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso were convicted along with a fifth defendant, former detective Arthur Kaufman, on a combined 25 counts of civil rights violations.

Bowen, Gisevius, Villavaso and Faulcon left the police department after the shooting.

“The citizens of this country will not, should not, and we intend that they will never have to fear the individuals who are called upon to protect them,” U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said at the time.

During the trial, the defense asked the jury to consider the stressful circumstances the officers were operating under following Katrina.

The shootings took place during a week of dire flooding, rampant looting and death by drowning. Police were strained, beset by suicides and desertion.

Local prosecutors filed similar charges, but no one was convicted. Federal prosecutors then moved in and launched an investigation.

Other officers have already been convicted in connection with the shootings. They include Michael Hunter, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to conspiracy to obstruct justice. Hunter was sentenced to eight years in prison.

According to court documents, Hunter drove in a rental truck to Danziger Bridge with other officers to respond to a radio call about gunshots and reports that officers on the nearby Interstate 10 bridge had come under fire.

At the time, New Orleans police said they got into a running gun battle with several people.

That’s when officers encountered the Madison brothers, Ronald and Lance.

Lance Madison told CNN he and his brother had left their flooded home and were crossing the bridge to find shelter. They were unwittingly headed to an area where armed looters were marauding, he said.

He said police officers were the only ones shooting as he and his brother ran for safety. A witness told CNN in 2006 that police shot Ronald Madison in the back as he ran toward a motel at the bottom of the bridge.

“Hunter … admitted that he was present on the west side of the Danziger Bridge when an officer, identified as Officer A, shot and killed Ronald Madison, a civilian who was running away from officers with his hands in view, and did not have a weapon or pose a threat,” the Justice Department said.

Hunter admitted that officers on the east side of the Danziger Bridge fired at civilians, even though the same civilians did not appear to have any weapons, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division launched an investigation into what it called “patterns or practices” of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police in the aftermath of Katrina.

In 2010, three former officers were convicted in the case of 31-year-old Henry Glover, who was shot to death and his body burned. One former officer was convicted of shooting Glover and the others convicted of attempting to cover up the crime.

Last year, the Justice Department said a federal investigation found New Orleans police engaged in patterns of misconduct, including using excessive force, conducting unconstitutional stops and searches and illegally profiling people based on race, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Authorities pledged to establish a consent decree involving federal oversight of the police force, including benchmarks to measure improvement.

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