A federal jury on Friday convicted five officers from the New Orleans Police Department on 25 counts in connection with the federal prosecution of a police-involved shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the days after Hurricane Katrina and an extensive cover-up of those shootings.
The Justice Department said four officers — Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso — were convicted in the shootings of multiple victims, two of whom died. They and a supervisor, Arthur “Archie” Kaufman, also were convicted of helping to obstruct justice during the government’s investigations.
Two civilians were killed in the incident and four others were wounded.
“The officers convicted today abused their power and violated the public’s trust during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — exacerbating one of the most devastating times for the people of New Orleans,” said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “I am hopeful today’s verdict brings justice for the victims and their family members, helps to heal the community and contributes to the restoration of public trust in the New Orleans Police Department.”
The former officers will be sentenced before U.S. District Court Judge Kirk Englehardt on Dec. 14.
According to the Justice Department, the evidence at trial established that officers Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso opened fire on an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge, killing 17-year-old James Brissette, and wounding Susan Bartholomew, 38; Leonard Bartholomew III, 44; the Bartholomew’s daughter, Lesha, 17; and the Bartholomew’s nephew, Jose Holmes, 19.
The Bartholomew’s 14-year-old son ran away from the shooting and was fired at, but was not injured.
According to testimony, the second shooting occurred minutes later on the west side of the bridge, where officers shot at brothers Lance and Ronald Madison, killing Ronald, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities. Witnesses testified that Faulcon shot Mr. Madison in the back as he ran away. The government also said Bowen stomped and kicked Mr. Madison while wounded, but not yet dead. Mr. Madison later died at the scene.
Justice Department officials said the four officers convicted of killing civilians face potential multiple life sentences, along with additional penalties on charges related to a conspiracy to cover-up what had happened on the bridge, and conspiracies to file charges against two of the victims, Lance Madison and Mr. Holmes.
According to testimony at trial, officers at the scene of the shooting arrested Lance Madison and charged him with eight counts of attempting to kill police officers. Officers collected no guns or shell casings on the day of the shooting, and 30 casings they collected more than a month later were fired by officers rather than civilians. Lance Madison was held in jail for three weeks, but eventually was released without indictment.
Justice officials said the evidence at trial established that Kaufman joined the other four officers in a conspiracy to cover-up what had happened on the bridge and to make the shootings appear justified.
According to testimony, they said Kaufman obtained a gun from his home and claimed to have found it at the bridge on the day after the shooting, and he also made up witnesses and then created statements from the fictional witnesses to help justify the shooting.
Kaufman, who concluded in a formal report that the shooting was justified and that Lance Madison and Mr. Holmes should be arrested, was also found guilty of conspiring with other officers to have Lance Madison and Mr. Holmes prosecuted on the basis of false evidence.
Kaufman faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison.
The trial follows guilty pleas by five former New Orleans officers who admitted participating in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and cover-up what happened. They included former Lt. Michael Lohman, former Det. Jeffrey Lehrmann, and former Officers Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios and Ignatius Hills, all of whom testified during the trial.