Five current and former New Orleans Police officers were convicted Aug. 5 in a federal court in the post-Katrina shooting of six unarmed people on the Danziger Bridge.
Six days after Katrina on Sept. 4, Kenneth Brown, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso shot six people on the bridge –killing two people–and then engaged in a cover-up, according to the five-woman, seven-man jury. Arthur Kaufman, a fifth defendant has been convicted of charges stemming from the cover-up.
“The verdicts in the Danziger Bridge trial provide significant closure to a dark chapter in our city’s history. We now have an opportunity to turn the page and to heal,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement. “With these verdicts, the American justice system delivered a clear message that no one stands above the law and that police abuse and misconduct will not be tolerated. “
Of the people killed at the scene one was 40-year-old Ronald Madison, a mentally-ill man who was shot in the back by a shotgun.
The trial was a high-profile test of the Justice Department’s effort to clean up a police department marred by a reputation for corruption and brutality. A total of 20 current or former New Orleans police officers were charged last year in a series of federal probes. Most of the cases center on actions during the aftermath of the Aug. 29, 2005, storm, which plunged the flooded city into a state of lawlessness and desperation.
The mother of 17-year-old James Brissette, one of the people killed on the bridge, told the Associated Press she was relieved by the verdict after “a long, hard six years.”
His mother, Sherrel Johnson, said she would now try to move on but lamented what her son would miss out on, according to the AP.
“For him there will be no prom, no baby, no nothing. My child will never have nothing,” she said.
The family of Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old disabled man fatally shot on the bridge, said in a statement the family had waited six years to “find out what really happened on that bridge.”
Madison’s sister Jackie Madison Brown read the statement, which also said that after an event like Katrina, “all citizens, no matter what color or what class, deserve protection.”
After the verdict was read, Justice Department prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein became emotional, hugging the families of Madison and Brissette and holding hands with two of Madison’s sisters.
Sentencing was tentatively scheduled for Dec. 14. Kaufman remains free on bond until he is sentenced. The other four officers already are jailed and face possible life prison sentences.
Faulcon, the officer who fired the shot that killed Madison, testified on July 27 that he saw guns and that’s why he fired.
“I saw guns in that split second. Out of my peripheral vision I saw officers in a defensive position, they were shooting. That’s when I shot my gun,” Faulcon said according to WWL TV in New Orleans. “I feel horrible because in that split second, I may have been right or wrong. If I would have known those people didn’t have weapons, I wouldn’t have fired my weapon.”
His message didn’t resonate with the jury or with prosecutors who said that the circumstances arising from the storm didn’t give the officers the right to act with lawlessness.
“They thought because of Katrina no one was watching,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “They thought they could do what they wanted to do and there wouldn’t be any consequences.”
For Madison’s family, the verdict is a long-time coming, but is bittersweet because no matter what the jury said, Madison is still gone.
“We will never be completely healed, because we will never have Ronald Madison back,” Madison’s brother Lance, who was with him on the bridge and who was initially arrested after the shooting, told WWL-TV in New Orleans.