More Cops Charged in Post-Katrina
shooting (Photo: Photographer unknown)
By: MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, AP
- In a case that rocked a city already torn by the horrors of Hurricane
Katrina, four police officers could face death themselves if convicted of
gunning down two unarmed people seeking refuge in the storm's chaotic
The officers who
could face the death penalty were charged along with two others in a
27-count indictment unsealed Tuesday. Five former New Orleans police
officers already have pleaded guilty to helping cover up the shootings on
the Danziger Bridge that left two men dead and four wounded just days
after the August 2005 hurricane. In one instance, a mentally disabled man
was shot in the back and stomped before he died.
Prosecutors say officers
fabricated witness statements, falsified reports and planted a gun in an
attempt to make it appear the shootings were justified. It was a shocking
example of the violence and confusion that followed the storm.
With 80 percent of New
Orleans underwater, officers from a department with a history of
corruption were forced to battle rampant crime, and some became criminals
themselves. Dozens of officers were fired or suspended for abandoning
their post. In a separate case, an officer is charged with shooting a man
whose body turned up in a burned out car.
The latest indictments
have also come shortly after the city's new mayor replaced its former
police chief and invited a Justice Department team to overhaul the city's
corruption-plagued police department, which already is the target of
several federal investigations separate from the bridge shooting.
In the bridge shooting
case, seven officers were charged with murder or attempted murder in
December 2006 but a state judge threw out all the charges in August 2008.
Federal authorities then stepped in a month later to launch their own
So far, five former New
Orleans police officers have pleaded guilty to lesser charges of helping
cover up the shootings on the Danziger Bridge and await sentencing.
charges Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, officer Anthony
Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon with deprivation of rights
under color of law and use of a weapon during the commission of a crime.
They could face the death penalty if convicted, though U.S. Attorney Jim
Letten said prosecutors haven't decided whether to seek that punishment.
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and
retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who helped investigate the shootings, were
charged with participating in a cover-up to make it appear the shootings
were justified. Charges against them include obstruction of justice.
The case is one of several
probes of alleged misconduct by New Orleans police officers that the
Justice Department opened after the August 2005 storm. Last month, five
current or former officers were charged in the shooting death of
31-year-old Henry Glover, whose burned body turned up after Katrina.
Attorney General Eric
Holder said the Justice Department is working with city officials to
restore residents' trust in the police department.
"Put simply, we will
not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the
public," Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday in New Orleans.
Mary Howell, a civil
rights attorney who represents relatives of one of the Danziger bridge
shooting victims, said the police department has been plagued by a
pattern of "episodic crises" that have eluded lasting reforms.
"There is either a
refusal or inability by local authorities to take care of them," she
said. "I think it's a question of leadership. This stuff requires
institutional changes that require the political leadership of the
community to make it last."
For Complete Story, Click Here