Jurors hear closing arguments in Katrina killings

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NEW ORLEANS — Hurricane Katrina gave no excuse for the carnage on a New Orleans bridge where police fatally shot two unarmed people and wounded four others in 2005, a federal prosecutor said in closing arguments Tuesday at the trial of five current or former officers.

But a defense attorney urged jurors to consider the “disorder, chaos and lawlessness” that gripped the flooded city after Katrina when they decide whether the officers acted reasonably in using deadly force.

“That doesn’t mean the rules change, but the perception changes,” said Paul Fleming, a lawyer for former officer Robert Faulcon. “What’s considered reasonable gets looked at a little differently.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter said police had no justification for shooting unarmed, defenseless people on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, and then plotting to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.

“They thought they could do what they wanted to do and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” Mr. Carter said of the defendants. “It was unreasonable for these officers to fire even one shot, let alone dozens.”

After several hours of closing arguments, jurors were expected to begin their deliberations Wednesday.

The jurors heard five weeks of testimony from roughly 60 witnesses in the Justice Department’s case against Mr. Faulcon, Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman. Mr. Faulcon, Sgt. Gisevius, Sgt. Bowen and Officer Villavaso are charged in the shootings and with taking part in the alleged cover-up. Mr. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, only is charged in the alleged cover-up.

Defense attorneys say police were shot at on the bridge before they returned fire.

“None of these people intentionally decided to go out there and cause people harm,” said Timothy Meche, Officer Villavaso’s lawyer. He said they did their best, operating under “terrible, horrible circumstances.”

Eric Hessler, Sgt. Gisevius‘ attorney, accused the government of ignoring evidence that somebody shot at the bridge from a grassy area nearby.

Mr. Carter, however, said the claim that police encountered armed residents is discredited by the officers’ failure to recover any weapons. “This wasn’t a gunfight. This was carnage,” he said.

On the morning of the shootings, a group of officers piled into a rental truck and drove to the bridge in response to an officer’s distress call.

On the east side of the bridge, officers allegedly opened fire on a group of people without issuing warnings or identifying themselves. Prosecutors say Sgt. Bowen leaned over a concrete barrier and randomly sprayed gunfire at wounded, unarmed people seeking cover.

“There’s no excuse for that. There was no threat,” Mr. Carter said. “What is that? That’s attempted murder.”

Mr. Carter said Mr. Faulcon fired the “kill shot” from a shotgun, striking 17-year-old James Brissette in the head, mortally wounding him. “The only thing James Brissette pointed at these officers was his back,” Mr. Carter said.

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