The Justice Department July 13 announced indictments for six New Orleans police officers in connection with a fatal shooting and subsequent cover-up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As the result of an investigation launched in May by the U. S. Department of Justice, six officers with the New Orleans Police Department face charges of federal civil rights law violations in the shooting deaths of two unarmed civilians during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The 27-count indictment handed up by a federal grand jury in Louisiana alleges how 17 year old James Brisette was killed and four members of his family wounded and how 40 year-old Ronald Madison was killed along the Danziger Bridge in eastern New Orleans.
Four officers, Robert Faulcon, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius and Anthony Villavaso, are in jail on homicide and obstruction of justice charges in the shootings that occurred minutes apart during the chaotic aftermath of the hurricane. Faulcon and Villavaso are Black. If convicted, they could face the death penalty.
Two police department supervisors Arthur Kaufman and the now-retired Gerard Dugue who helped investigate the shootings at the time, were charged with participating in a cover-up to make it appear the shootings were justified. Charges against them include obstruction of justice. Kaufman faces up to 120 years in prison and Dugue faces a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.
The officers had responded to the Danziger Bridge just a few days after the hurricane hit following reports of looting and someone shooting at other officers. According to the Justice Department, Brisette and five members of the Bartholomew family were walking across the bridge to get food and other supplies from a grocery store when the officers began shooting. Brisette was killed and four other people were wounded.
Minutes later, the officers then allegedly shot at two brothers, including Madison, who was mentally disabled, and Bowen allegedly kicked the man repeatedly. Madison was pronounced dead at the scene.
The officers contended they fired in self-defense. But Justice officials claim that the victims were shot without cause. According to the department, a gun was planted at the scene as part of a cover up and fictional witnesses were created.
“We’re pleased to see that the investigations have progressed to the point that they have,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans Chapter of the NAACP, told the AFRO.
“Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration deserve a lot of credit,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor. “That investigation had been stalled and many of us worried that it would be swept under the rug. These are a very important set of charges that demonstrates that this administration cares about the issue of police brutality.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement issued July 13 that his department is working with officials in New Orleans to restore residents’ trust in the police department.
“Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are sworn to protect the public,” Holder said in the statement.
King said that the New Orleans community has known for a while about credibility problems surrounding the police department. “We’ve called for an investigation concerning allegations of police conduct before Katrina and it’s good now that we’ve gotten to the point of getting outside help ,”he said.