- Associated Press - Friday, November 4, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A former police sergeant admitted on Friday that he helped cover up the fatal police shootings of two people in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina, ending a criminal case that roiled the New Orleans Police Department after the 2005 storm.

Gerard Dugue (DOOH’-gay) had been scheduled for trial Monday but pleaded guilty to one charge of being an “accessory after the fact to willful deprivation of rights under cover of law,” a misdemeanor.

Dugue said no when U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt asked if he wanted to speak.

Lance Madison, whose brother Ronald was killed five days after the storm on the Danziger Bridge, gave a tiny shake of his head when Engelhardt asked him the same question.

Outside the courthouse, Madison said he was thankful the criminal trials were over.

“All the police officers … admitted to being guilty,” he said. “We’re just thankful for all of this. Because all of this could have been wiped away.”

Engelhardt accepted the plea agreement’s sentence of a year on probation and dismissed an indictment charging Dugue with multiple felonies.

The judge also waived a fine, saying Dugue could not afford to pay one, but said he must pay restitution. The judge said he will decide the amount after civil lawsuits filed by victims’ families are resolved. He said he will subtract the civil damages from the restitution.

Four civil lawsuits involving eight plaintiffs and 17 defendants have been consolidated before U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo. They had been on hold until the criminal cases were resolved, said attorney Mary Howell, who represents Madison in one suit.

Defendants in the lawsuits include the city, the police department, a former police chief and assistant chief, and Mayor Ray Nagin, who is serving 10 years on unrelated corruption charges.

Dugue admitted that he helped Sgt. Arthur Kaufman cover up shootings at New Orleans’ Danziger bridge to avert Kaufman’s arrest, trial and punishment. Dugue retired during the federal investigation, though his lawyer said at the time that he had already been planning retirement.

Kaufman pleaded guilty in April to participating in the cover-up; four other former police officers pleaded guilty in connection with the shootings. Their sentences range from three to 12 years.

“These police officers, they got their time reduced. They still have prison time. But I won’t be able to see my brother,” Madison said. “They can go home to their families.”

The Danziger case, the unrelated shooting death of Henry Glover by police and other incidents of post-Katrina police violence were followed by heightened federal scrutiny of the department.

A 2011 U.S. Justice Department report was highly critical of department policies, training and use of force. The Justice Department and the city reached agreement on reforms in 2012.

The Danziger case also rocked the Justice Department.

The five officers who pleaded guilty in April had been convicted by a jury in 2011. Some were facing decades in prison. However, Engelhardt set aside the verdicts two years later, granting the men new trials because federal prosecutors leaked information to the news media and made anonymous online comments about the case.

Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, leading to levee failures that flooded most of New Orleans and sending thousands who hadn’t evacuated in search of higher ground, food and shelter. The police department was under strain and reports of looting and gunfire were common.

Police were answering a call about shots fired at the Danziger bridge as a group was crossing, seeking a safe haven. Six unarmed people were hit. Killed were Ronald Madison, 40, who was mentally disabled, and 17-year-old James Brissette.

Dugue, who was not at the bridge on the day of the shooting, was tried separately in 2012. That trial ended in a mistrial when the judge ruled a prosecutor might have unfairly influenced the jury by mentioning the name of a man beaten to death by a New Orleans police officer in an unrelated case.

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This story has been corrected to show Dugue pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact, rather than to willful deprivation of civil rights.

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