A federal jury found five former New Orleans police officers guilty of civil rights violations in connection to the shooting deaths of two men on the Danziger Bridge in New Orleans. The shootings took place during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The AP reports:
"All five officers were convicted Friday of charges stemming from the cover-up of the shootings. The four who had been charged with civil rights violations in the shootings were convicted on all counts.
"However, the jury decided that neither fatal shooting was a murder.
"Prosecutors said police shot six unarmed people, killing two, on the Danziger Bridge less than a week after the 2005 storm. Officers also were charged with participating in a cover-up to make the shootings appear justified."
NPR has covered the Danziger Bridge case at great length. Both Fresh Air and Tell Me More have talked to reporters from the Times-Picayune and Pro-Publica who have taken a close look at the case.
The short of it is that on Sept. 4, 2005, police were called to the Danziger Bridge, a concrete lift bridge that spans the Industrial Canal. The officers alleged they were being fired upon, so a back-up group headed toward the bridge and ended up shooting and killing two and injuring others.
The people turned out to be unarmed civilians, and today the officers were found to be guilty on counts ranging from fabrication of witnesses to lying to the FBI to obstruction of justice by planting a firearm.
The Times-Picayune adds that prosecutors were victorious on most counts, except the jury did not agree that the shootings amounted to murder. The paper reports:
The landmark civil-rights case — one of four major federal cases involving use of force by New Orleans police to result in indictments so far — has been closely watched around the nation.
Because of its sheer magnitude, the Danziger case was the most high-stakes of the nine civil-rights probes into NOPD the Justice Department has confirmed. Before today's verdicts, five other former officers, all of whom testified during the six-week trial, had already pleaded guilty to various roles in the shootings and the subsequent cover-up.
The two other cases to go to trial so far — involving the deaths of Henry Glover and Raymond Robair at the hands of police — both resulted in convictions, although two officers accused of different roles in the Glover case were acquitted, and a third officer who was convicted recently had that verdict vacated.
The police officers on trial were Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius, Arthur Kaufman and Anthony Villavaso.
Update at 1:59 p.m. ET. Reaction To Verdict:
The Times-Picayune reports that the prosecutor on the case gave credit to the family members of the victims. Barbara "Bobbi" Bernstein said it was their persistence that brought out the truth.
Lance Madison, whose brother Ronald Madison was killed in the incident, said nothing would bring his brother back but he thanked the jury and federal authorities.
"We're thankful for closure after six long years of waiting for justice," Madison told the Times-Picayune.