- Associated Press - Monday, July 11, 2011

NEW ORLEANS — A former police detective testified Monday that he participated in a plot to fabricate witnesses, falsify reports and plant a gun to make it seem police were justified in shooting unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

Jeffrey Lehrmann, a government witness in the federal trial of five current or former officers, said he saw Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman retrieve a gun from his home several weeks after the deadly shootings on the Danziger Bridge. Sgt. Kaufman later turned in the gun as evidence, claiming he found it under the bridge a day after the 2005 shootings, which left two people dead and four others wounded.

Lehrmann said Sgt. Kaufman instructed him to fill out paperwork that claimed the gun belonged to Lance Madison, whose mentally disabled brother, Ronald, was shot and killed on the bridge. Lance Madison was arrested on attempted murder charges and held for more than three weeks before a judge freed him.

Lehrmann said Sgt. Kaufman, his supervisor, had grown concerned because the judge who freed Lance Madison didn’t believe Sgt. Kaufman’s testimony at the hearing.

“Therefore, we needed a gun,” Lehrmann said.

Lehrmann said Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen joined him and Sgt. Kaufman when they drove to Sgt. Kaufman’s house to retrieve a gun. Sgt. Kaufman emerged from his garage carrying the gun in a brown paper bag, calling it a “ham sandwich,” Lehrmann said.

Lehrmann, who has been sentenced to three years in prison, is one of five former officers who pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up. He is the fourth of those officers to testify at the latest trial, now entering its third week.

Sgt. Kaufman’s attorney, Stephen London, suggested during cross-examination that Lehrmann was trying to shift blame to his client and has changed his story over time. Lehrmann accused the lawyer of “nitpicking,” while Mr. London chided the witness for smiling during his testimony.

“My client is on trial. Is that funny?” Mr. London asked.

“No, it’s not funny at all,” he responded.

On Sept. 4, 2005, Lehrmann drove himself to the Danziger Bridge after a truckload of officers responded to another officer’s distress call and began shooting. He isn’t accused of firing his gun that day.

Lehrmann said he handcuffed Ronald Madison on the west side of the bridge after he was shot, then felt bad about it when another officer told him the man already was dead.

Lehrmann said the officers immediately started to “get their stories straight.”

“We had a lot of problems because it was a bad shoot,” he said.

“What was the goal of the cover-up?” prosecutor Cindy Chung asked.

“Protect the officers from legal ramifications,” he said.

Sgts. Gisevius and Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former Officer Robert Faulcon are on trial for charges stemming from the shootings. Sgt. Kaufman is charged in the purported cover-up.

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