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Cops sentenced to decades in federal prison for Katrina shootings

NEW ORLEANS —A case that became the centerpiece of the Justice Department’s push to clean up the troubled New Orleans Police Department came to a close as a federal judge sentenced five former police officers for their roles in deadly shootings of unarmed residents on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt handed down the sentences on Wednesday after hours of testimony.

Kenneth Bowen received a sentence of 40 years, Robert Gisevius received 40 years, Anthony Villavaso received 38 years and Robert Faulcon received 65 years after they were convicted of firearms charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences.

Arthur Kaufman, a retired sergeant convicted of participating in a cover-up, received six years.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten thanked partners with various agencies and hoped that today’s sentencing helped bring closure to the families affected by the ordeal.

“Our undying gratitude goes to our partners in the Civil Rights Division and FBI who, together with the tremendous professionals in the United States attorney’s office, made today’s closure and justice possible,” said Letten. “I am equally grateful to the courageous families of James Brissette and Ronald Madison who gave their lives on the bridge, as well as to those who suffered abuse needlessly at the hands of a few corrupt police officers. We will never relent, back down or give up our fight to ensure that our citizens — especially those most vulnerable among us — never have to fear those who are sworn to protect them.”

Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas E. Perez said the sentencing is a “step forward” for the city of New Orleans.

“We hope that today’s sentences give a measure of peace and closure to the victims of this terrible shooting, who have suffered unspeakable pain and who have waited so patiently for justice to be done. The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions,” said Perez.

The former officers were convicted in August on a combined 25 counts of civil rights violations in the shootings that took place on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005. James Brissette and Ronald Madison were shot and killed by police officers. Four others were also shot on the bridge that crosses the industrial canal.

The U.S. attorney’s office said the evidence at trial established that a group of police officers — including Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso — opened fire with assault rifles and a shotgun, shooting at an unarmed family walking on the east side of the bridge.

Gunfire struck the victims multiple times, wounding a couple, their daughter, and their nephew, and killing Brissette. A 38-year-old woman suffered serious injuries, including the loss of her right arm, which was shot off by a high-powered assault rifle; a 44-year-old man was shot in the leg and the back of the head, but survived; a 17-year-old girl was shot in both legs and in the stomach; and a 19-year-old man was shot in the face, the neck, both arms, the hand and the stomach. Brissette, who was shot in the back, the leg, both arms and the back of the head, died on the bridge.

A 14-year-old boy ran away from the shooting and was fired at, but was not injured, investigators said.

A second shooting occurred several minutes later on the west side of the Danziger Bridge, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a news releases issued on Wednesday.

After shooting at the family and Brissette, investigators said, officers traveled to the other side of the bridge to chase two men — brothers Lance and Ronald Madison — who had run away when the shooting started. Officers caught up to the Madisons on the west side of the bridge, where investigators said Faulcon used a shotgun to shoot Ronald Madison in the back as he was running away.

An NBC News crew was near the Danziger Bridge when the shooting happened. The videotape shot that morning captured repeated bursts of gunfire and shows police officers running.

After the shootings, witnesses testified that the involved officers began a cover-up. Lance Madison was arrested and falsely charged with eight counts of attempting to kill police officers, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

No guns or shell casings were collected on the day of the shooting, but 30 casings they did collect more than a month later were found to be fired by officers.

Three weeks after the shooting, Kaufman falsely testified that Madison had a gun and had shot at police.

To make the shootings appear justified, officers conspired to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.

During the trial, testimony revealed that Kaufman and the other members of the cover-up held a meeting in an abandoned and gutted out NOPD building, where the officers practiced getting their stories straight before they gave formal audio-taped statements about the shooting.

The five former NOPD officers who pleaded guilty before trial were all sentenced previously. Former Officer Mike Hunter was sentenced to serve eight years in prison; former Officer Ignatius Hills was sentenced to 6 1/2 years; former Officer Robert Barrios was sentenced to five years; former Lt. Michael Lohman was sentenced to four years and former Detective Jeffrey Lehrmann was sentenced to three years.

The Justice Department’s probe of the shootings became the centerpiece of its push to clean up the troubled police department. Revelations that officers shot unarmed people and tried to justify the shootings with a brazen cover-up stunned a city with a long history of police corruption.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the verdicts will provide closure to a “dark chapter” in the city’s history, but also said the sentencing proved as an opportunity for the city to “turn the page” and heal.

“Police abuse and misconduct cannot and will not be tolerated,” Landrieu said. “The citizens of New Orleans deserve a police department that protects, serves, and partners with the community to keep New Orleans safe. It is my commitment to the people of New Orleans to rebuild and reform the NOPD.”

The officers’ attorneys last week asked Englehardt to delay the sentencing due to comments made by former federal prosecutor Sal Perricone, who they said made negative remarks online about the officers and the case during the trial. He denied the request.




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