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Jul 14, 2010 8:08 PM by Chris Welty

3 Officers Plead Not Guilty in Katrina Shootings

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Three police officers charged in the killing
of two unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane
Katrina and a cover-up that followed pleaded not guilty on
Wednesday.
Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen and Officer Anthony
Villavaso stood before a federal magistrate in green prison garb,
shackled at the waist and ankles. They will remain jailed at least
until a hearing Friday. A tentative trial date is set for Sept. 13.
Magistrate Louis Moore Jr. read the counts - 13 against Bowen,
11 against Gisevius and 10 against Villavaso. Former officer Robert
Faulcon made his initial court appearance Tuesday in Texas, where
he was arrested, but has not entered a plea.
The charges against the four carry a maximum sentence of life in
prison or the death penalty, although U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said
the Justice Department hasn't decided whether to seek the latter
punishment.
The family of two victims - Ronald Madison, who was killed, and
his brother, Lance, who survived - sat in the front row of the
packed courtroom. Gisevius cried quietly as he stood with his
lawyer.
"We'll be able to pick this indictment apart," said Frank
DeSalvo, Bowen's lawyer. "There is a lot of fantasy there."
Bowen, Gisevius and Villavaso were suspended without pay after
the indictments were released Tuesday, NOPD spokesman Bob Young
said on Wednesday.
Five former officers already have pleaded guilty to charges they
helped cover up the shootings. Prosecutors have said police
fabricated witnesses, falsified reports and plotted to plant a gun
to make it appear that the shootings were justified.
The shootings at the Danziger Bridge happened Sept. 4, 2005, six
days after Hurricane Katrina smashed levees and left the city
flooded and in chaos. Bodies floated in filthy flood waters. There
were reports of looting and gunshots rang out throughout the
blacked-out city.
It was in this backdrop that police, desperate to regain
control, were called about 9 a.m. that morning after reports of
gunfire at the bridge.
Seven heavily armed New Orleans police officers stormed the
bridge. Prosecutors said they shot at the first people they saw,
people they say were crossing the bridge to find food.
When it was over, two men were dead and four others lay wounded
on the hot concrete.
The indictment claims Faulcon shot mentally disabled Ronald
Madison, 40, in the back as he ran away on the west side of the
bridge. Bowen is charged with stomping and kicking Madison while he
was lying on the ground, wounded but still alive.
Madison's brother, Lance, was arrested and charged with trying
to kill police officers. He was jailed for three weeks before being
released without indictment.
Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso also are accused of
shooting at an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge,
killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four others.
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who helped
investigate the shootings, were charged with participating in the
alleged cover-up. Charges against them include obstruction of
justice.
Kaufman and Bowen "specifically discussed using Hurricane
Katrina to excuse failures in the investigation, and thereby to
help make any inquiry into the shooting go away," the indictment
states.
Kaufman allegedly took a gun from his home and claimed to have
found it at the crime scene a day after the shootings, then lied
about that gun under oath and in reports, prosecutors said.
Dugue is accused of lying to a federal agent when he said he had
no concerns about the truth of the officers' statements.
"In fact, he had many 'red flags' and 'question marks' about
the officers' stories, but he reported the questionable information
as fact and relied upon it without qualification," the indictment
says.
The charges, unsealed Tuesday, are the culmination of a two-year
probe by the federal government. An internal police investigation
found no wrongdoing by officers. A state grand jury convened to
look into the matter charged seven officers with murder or
attempted murder, but a state judge threw out all the charges in
2008.

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