Justice has been served in the case of the former New Orleans cops who killed unarmed citizens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But, according to the sentencing judge, that “justice” was hardly fair, with uneven prison terms handed out to various officers.
“Today’s sentencings send a strong message that no one is above the law and the civil rights of all of our citizens are paramount in a free society,” David Welker, special agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans Division, said in a statement. “My hope as we move forward is that the men and women of NOPD and all law enforcement will conduct themselves always in a manner that will withstand the scrutiny of the bright light of justice.”
The five former officers, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso, Robert Faulcon and retired Sgt. Arthur “Archie” Kaufman were sentenced April 4 to prison terms ranging from six to 65 years for their roles in the fatal shooting and consequent cover-up. The first four were convicted on federal gun charges, and the latter for his role in arranging the conspiracy.
On Sept. 4, 2005, less than a week after Katrina unleashed havoc on the Gulf Coast, police shot at six unarmed residents—killing two—who were trying to cross the Danziger Bridge near the city’s Gentilly neighborhood to find food and supplies. To cover their actions, the officers conspired to plant a firearm, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.
“This has been a long and painful six-and-a-half years,” testified Lance Madison, whose 40-year-old mentally disabled brother, Ronald, was killed at the bridge, according to the Associated Press. “The people of New Orleans and my family are ready for justice.”
The case became the centerpiece of a Justice Department probe into corruption in the New Orleans Police Department. Officials say they were pleased with the outcome.
“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,” Thomas E. Perez, assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward.”
But in a two-hour diatribe, U.S. District Court Judge Kurt Englehardt lambasted the prosecutors for what he called their uneven handling of the defendants in the case. He specifically decried three- to five-year sentences given to five other officers who pleaded guilty in exchange for their cooperation in convicting their cohorts.
“These through-the-looking-glass plea deals that tied the hands of this court … are an affront to the court and a disservice to the community,” Engelhardt said.