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DANZIGER BRIDGE Shooting Trial GUILTY Verdicts Jury finds five cops guilty in Danziger Bridge shootings, cover-up Sentencing set for December 14

8th August 2011   ·   1 Comment

On its third day of deliberations, a federal jury in New Orleans fast cash orlando fl found five members of the New Orleans Police department guilty on 25 counts in the Danziger Bridge shootings and subsequent cover-up. The 2005 shootings that took place just days after Hurricane Katrina claimed the lives of two civilians and wounded four others. One of the survivors lost an arm.

Convicted were former officer Robert Faulcon, Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman. Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso were convicted in the shootings and with taking part in the alleged cover-up. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, was charged only in the alleged cover-up.

“Today’s verdict by these jurors sends a powerful, a powerful, unmistakable message to public servants, to law enforcement officers and to the citizens we serve and indeed to the world,” U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said outside the federal courthouse. “That message is that public officials and especially law enforcement officers will be held accountable for their acts, and that any abuse of power, especially that power that violates the rights and the civil liberties of our citizens, will have serious consequences.”

“The citizens of this country will not, should not, and we intend that they will never have to fear the individuals who are called upon to protect them,” Letten added. “The citizens of this country should not have to fear the people called upon to protect them.”

While the five current or former officers were convicted on all 25 counts, the jury didn’t find that the shootings of James Brisette or Ronald Madison amounted to murder, The Associated Press reported.

Five other officers — Michael Lohman, Jeffery Lehrmann, Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios and Ignatis Hill, pleaded guilty on a variety of federal charges and agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice as it continued its probe of the 2005 incident.

In closing arguments Tuesday, a federal prosecutor told jurors that Hurricane Katrina gave no excuse for the carnage on the Danziger Bridge.

But a defense attorney urged jurors to consider the “disorder, chaos and lawlessness” that gripped the flooded city after Katrina when they decide whether the officers acted reasonably in using deadly force, The Associated Press reported.

“That doesn’t mean the rules change, but the perception changes,” added Paul Fleming, a lawyer for former officer Robert Faulcon. “What’s considered reasonable gets looked at a little differently.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore Carter said police had no justification for shooting unarmed, defenseless people on the Danziger Bridge on Sept. 4, 2005, and then plotting to plant a gun, fabricate witnesses and falsify reports.

“They thought they could do what they wanted to do and there wouldn’t be any consequences,” Carter said of the defendants. “It was unreasonable for these officers to fire even one shot, let alone dozens.”

After several hours of closing arguments, jurors began their deliberations Wednesday.

The jurors heard five weeks of testimony from roughly 60 witnesses in the Justice Department’s case against Faulcon, Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen, Officer Anthony Villavaso and retired Sgt. Arthur Kaufman. Faulcon, Gisevius, Bowen and Villavaso are charged in the shootings and with taking part in the alleged cover-up. Kaufman, who investigated the shootings, only is charged in the alleged cover-up.

Defense attorneys say police were shot at on the bridge before they returned fire.

“None of these people intentionally decided to go out there and cause people harm,” said Timothy Meche, Villavaso’s lawyer. He said they did their best, operating under “terrible, horrible circumstances.”

Eric Hessler, Gisevius’ attorney, accused the government of ignoring evidence cash advance Fairgrounds San Jose CA that somebody shot at the bridge from a grassy area nearby.

Carter, however, said the claim that police encountered armed residents is discredited by the officers’ failure to recover any weapons.

“This wasn’t a gunfight. This was carnage,” the prosecutor said.

On the morning of the shootings, a group of officers piled into a rental truck and drove to the bridge in response to an officer’s distress call.

On the east side of the bridge, officers allegedly opened fire on a group of people without issuing warnings or identifying themselves. Prosecutors say Bowen leaned over a concrete barrier and randomly sprayed gunfire at wounded, unarmed people seeking cover.

“There’s no excuse for that. There was no threat,” Carter said. “What is that? That’s attempted murder.”

Carter said Faulcon fired the “kill shot” from a shotgun, striking 17-year-old James Brissette in the head, mortally wounding him.

“The only thing James Brissette pointed at these officers was his back,” Carter said.

Bowen’s attorney, Frank De­Salvo, said ballistics evidence doesn’t support prosecutors’ claim that his client leaned over the barrier and shot Brissette while he was lying down.

“There is not a shred of evidence that Ken Bowen intended to shoot James Brissette,” he said.

Fleming said the evidence suggests another former officer who pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up and cooperated with federal authorities was responsible for fatally shooting Brissette.

Faulcon, the only defendant to testify, said he was “paralyzed with fear” when he shot and killed 40-year-old Ronald Madison as he chased him and his brother, Lance Madison. Faulcon didn’t dispute that he shot an unnamed man in the back, but said he had believed Ronald Madison was armed and posed a threat.

“Unfortunate and tragic do not mean unreasonable,” Fleming said.

Kaufman allegedly retrieved a gun from his home weeks after the shootings and turned it in as evidence, trying to pass it off as a gun belonging to Lance Madison. He also is accused of fabricating two non-existent witnesses to the shootings.

Kaufman’s attorney, Stephen London, said another investigator, retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue, was responsible for the contents of the department’s official report on the shootings. London told jurors they heard proof that Kaufman didn’t write any false reports.

“He not only didn’t sign anything, they don’t have anybody who puts his finger anywhere near that,” London added.

Dugue also is charged in the case but is scheduled to be tried separately later.

In 2006, seven officers were indicted in state court on murder or attempted murder charges. After a state judge dismissed those charges in 2008, the Justice Department’s civil rights division opened an investigation.

Lance Madison, who was arrested on attempted murder charges but later cleared by the state grand jury, has said he believed teenagers were shooting at him and his brother on the bridge. He disavowed that recollection during the trial, but defense attorneys said his earlier statements were powerful evidence that police faced a deadly threat.

Officer Heather Gore, an officer who isn’t charged in the case, testified before a federal grand jury that she saw a man point an assault rifle at police when she jumped out of the rental truck. Justice Department prosecutor Bobbi Bernstein called her a liar.

“The only people with guns on the bridge that day were the officers,” she said.

During the trial, Susan Bartholomew, the shooting victim who lost her right arm, told jurors that she and her family were crossing the eastern New Orleans bridge in search of food and payday loans bayou vista la other supplies when they were hit with a barrage of bullets by NOPD officers.

“The police just kept shooting and I just kept felling myself being hit,” Bartholomew said. “I prayed. I just called on the Lord. I didn’t know what else to do.”

On Count 1, deprivation of James Brissette’s civil rights Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 2, use of a firearm in the Brissette shooting, Bowen Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 3, deprivation of Susan Bartholomew’s civil rights, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 4, deprivation of Leonard Bartholomew IV’s civil rights, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 5, deprivation of Lesha Bartholomew’s civil rights, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 6, deprivation of Jose Holmes’ civil rights, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 7, use of a firearm in the shootings of Holmes and the Bartholomews, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were found guilty.

On Count 8, deprivation of Ronald Madison’s civil rights by shooting, Faulcon was found guilty.

On Count 9, use of a firearm in the Madison shooting, Faulcon was found guilty.

On Count 10, deprivation of Ronald Madison’s civil rights by beating, Bowen was found guilty.

On Count 11, conspiracy to obstruct justice and make false statements, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon, Villavaso and Kaufman were found guilty.

On Count 12, conspiracy to violate Jose Holmes’ civil rights by false prosecution, Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon, Villavaso and Kaufman were found guilty.

On Count 13, conspiracy to violate Lance Madison’s civil rights by false prosecution, Bowen, Gisevius and Kaufman were found guilty.

On Count 14, falsification of evidence to obstruct justice, Kaufman was found guilty.

On Count 15, obstruction of justice by planting a firearm, Kaufman was found guilty.

On Count 16, making false statements to the FBI regarding a firearm, Kaufman was found guilty. Kaufman was also found guilty of Count 17, falsification of victim statements, and Count 18, false statements to the FBI regarding victim statements.

Bowen was found guilty of Count 19, September 2005 false statement to Arthur Kaufman in NOPD report, and Count 20, January 2006 taped false statement about shooting.

On Count 21, January 2006 taped false statement about shooting, Gisevius was found guilty.

On Count 22, June 2006 taped false statement about shooting, Faulcon was found guilty.

On Count 23, January 2006 taped false statement about shooting, Villavaso was found guilty.

On Count 24, fabrication of witnesses, Kaufman was found guilty. Finally, on Count 25, false statements to the FBI regarding fabrication of witnesss, Kaufman was found guilty.

Sentencing for the five officers, all of whom will likely face lengthy prison sentences, has been scheduled for Dec. 14 before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt.

“These defendants will be facing very, very long sentences,” legal analyst Dane Ciolino told WWL-TV Friday.

Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso are facing potential multiple life sentences, as well as additional penalties for charges tied to a conspiracy to cover up what happened on the bridge. Kaufman faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison. Kaufman remains out on bond while the other four defendants remain in jail.

Defense attorney Roger Kitchens said he believed negative media coverage of the case tainted jurors and prevent his client, payday loans near marysville wa Villavaso, from getting a fair trial..

“At this point, I don’t think it’s possible for a New Orleans police officer to get a fair trial in the city of New Orleans. And I don’t think they got one today,” Kitchens said.

On Friday, after the verdict was read family members, supporters and prosecutors gathered outside the courthouse to talk about the trial and its meaning.

While reminding reporters that the guilty verdict won’t bring his 40-year-old brother back, Lance Madison said Friday that he was grateful to the jury and federal prosecutors for helping the Madison family to get justice in the case and at least begin the healing process.

“We’re thankful for closure after six long years of waiting for justice,” Madison said.

Lance Madison said the family would “never be completely healed, because we will never have Ronald Madison back.”

“We have sought justice not only for our family but for the entire community,” Jackie Madison Brown, Ronald Madison’s sister, told reporters. “We knew that what happened to our family could have — and did — happen to other innocent families. Everyone in our community — regardless of race or class — deserves protection and safety, especially from the police officers who are supposed to protect and serve us.

“We are hopeful that with the ongoing help of the Department of Justice that there will really be a change in our police department and our city,” Madison Brown added. “We’re also committed to participating in this process as we continue to heal as a family and a community.”

“I have been robbed a great deal because he was only 17,” a still-grieving Sherrell Johnson, the mother of James Brissette Jr., told reporters after the verdict was read. “There is nothing for James — nothing. No prom, no first car, no baby, nothing. My child will never have nothing. He will forever more be an urn of ashes.

“I want to thank the people responsible for his death. Thank y’all very much. They did a good job. They took the twinkle out of my eye, the song out of my heart and they blew out my candle, but it’s going to be alright because justice has been served. The day has come, the fat lady has sang and the curtain has come down. There’s nothing more to say.”

“Today is a great day and I am extremely happy for the families that have received this justice because they suffered more than any of us,” W.C. Johnson, a member of Community United for Change and co-host of the New Orleans cable-access show “OurStory,” told The Louisiana Weekly. “We all recognize and understand that their pain and plight has been the pain and plight of all of us. That’s something when you lose a loved one when it was not necessary, especially when they try to turn him into a criminal.

“I’m overjoyed, I’m extremely elated and happy and want to thank the families for their strength and energy and for making this possible,” Johnson added. “Had it not been for them, we would not be able to have this victory today. Especially the Madison family, the ones that persevered and brought all of this to fruition. I’m most grateful to Dr. Romell Madison and Johnson said it’s important that the community never forgets the tragic deaths and human rights violations that made last week’s legal victory necessary and possible.

“It’s unfortunate that Black folks have been put in a position since coming to this continent cash advance loan georgia under European rule that we have to rejoice at someone else’s sorrow because no one was there to protect us and keep us from having the problems that we’ve had to suffer over the years,” W.C. Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “One of the things that makes people so joyous is the fact that the community doesn’t have to go down there and tear up the CBD. I don’t think people would have taken a not-guilty verdict lying down here, especially in the beginning of August with all this heat. I just don’t see people in New Orleans taking it kindly if they would have let these officers off.

“Unfortunately, we have to do rejoicing and libations in dealing with the fact that we have received some justice, some justification as being human beings, some reinforcement that all is not totally lost,” Johnson continued. “We are showing our youth that we can do things through perseverance, without having to go outside of the structure to get it done.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday that he hopes the verdict will lead to greater trust and cooperation between New Orleans residents and the city’s embattled police department.

“The officers convicted today abused their power and violated the public’s trust during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—exacerbating one of the most devastating times for the people of New Orleans,” Holder said in a written statement.

“I am hopeful today’s verdict brings justice for the victims and their family members, helps to heal the community and contributes to the restoration of public trust in the New Orleans Police Department.”

“The verdicts in the Danziger Bridge trial provide significant closure to a dark chapter in our city’s history,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Friday. “We now have an opportunity to turn the page and to heal.

“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.

“Today, we reaffirm our commitment to change,” Landrieu added. “The citizens of New Orleans deserve nothing less than a police department that truly protects and serves – one that partners with the community to keep New Orleans safe.

“Our heartfelt apologies and prayers are with the families of James Brissette, Ronald Madison, Leonard Bartholomew III, Susan Bartholomew, Lesha Bartholomew, Jose Holmes, Jr., and Lance Madison.”

“This is another step in the process,” Danatus King, president of the New Orleans branch of the NAACP, told The Louisiana Weekly Friday. “Aside from the obvious closure it brings to the families that were directly affected, it also highlights the amount that remains to be done in this city in regards to race relations and in regards to our police department.

“When we place these guilty verdicts alongside the celebratory parade that those same defendants received when they were first brought up on charges, that just highlights the distance that we have to go in this city,” King added.

While Johnson applauded last week’s guilty verdict, he also said that it’s become clear to him and many others that any significant reformation of the NOPD will have to be community-led and community-based.

“I don’t think that Chief Ronal Serpas and Mayor Mitch Landrieu will receive and understand the significance of this,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “I do not believe that they have the foresight to be able to see that they need to do things differently now because they’ve done nothing through this entire process leading up to this point that indicates that they personal loan with iva are willing to do things differently. The good ole boy system is embedded and I think they will die trying to maintain the existence of the good ole boy system. They’ve given me no indication up to this point that they understand that they need to totally rebuild the police department from the foundation up to bring about true reform. They’ve given me no indication that they’re willing to do that, so we’re going to have to fight as hard or harder to get them to accept what the DOJ has documented. They need to accept that the community has to have a starring role in the reforming of the NOPD. They have totally ignored the community as far as reform for NOPD has gone thus far.”

Johnson said CUC will continue to hold protests calling for the resignation or termination of NOPD Supt. Ronal Serpas every Thursday noon in front of City Hall and will also host neighborhood meetings to gain community input for the DOJ-mandated consent decree for the police department.

While he had harsh words for the mayor and police chief, Johnson commended the federal judge who presided over the Danziger Bridge trial, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt. “I had criticized him because of the stringent controls that he had put in place” for the trial, Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “But after the fact I have to say that in the end it will serve justice more than if he had not because it’s going to be difficult for the defendants to win an appeal with the kinds of controls that were put in place.”

A community meeting led by Community United for Change will be held on August 25 at Hood 2 Hood T-shirt shop, located at 706 Felicity Street in the Sixth Police District. Another meeting will take place on Sept. 20 in the Third Police District, although the location of that gathering has not yet been announced.

“We are beginning to put in place within each police district oversight from that community for that precinct,” Johnson told The Louisiana Weekly. “We have to have each precinct being monitored on a regular basis by citizens of this community. That gives them a direct link and makes them a direct stakehold in true reform in this city. We have to do this block by block; anything less than that would not serve the community or the people here in New Orleans.”

“While I applaud these jurors for doing the right thing and not allowing the issue of skin color to cloud their judgement, it is important to remember that two innocent people lost their lives and that four others were shot without provocation on the Danziger Bridge six years ago,” Ramessu Merriamen Aha, a former Internet radio talk-show host and New Orleans businessman, told The Louisiana Weekly. “Today’s verdict won’t mean a thing if the mayor and police chief don’t start listening to the people of New Orleans who have been clamoring for a complete overhaul of the New Orleans Police Department from top to bottom for a very long time and getting nothing but the runaround from Mitch Landrieu and Ronald Serpas.

“The culture and attitudes that led to the murders of Ronald Madison and James Brissette are still in place in the New Orleans Police Department and unless substantive reforms are implemented, it’s only a matter of time before we have another Danziger Bridge.”

This article was originally published in the August 8, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

Readers Comments (1)

  1. Virgil Dugué says:

    Sunday Journal
    with HAL CLARK

    WYLD-FM’s [Radio Dial 98.5]
    Sunday Journal (New Orleans, La)
    Sunday, August 14, 2011
    7:00 am to 9:00 am Central Time

    Dr. Firpo Carr will be interviewed by Mr. Harold (Hal) Clark. The listening audience will be made aware of the reasons why the unjust charges against Sgt. Gerard Dugué should be dropped.

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