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Jul 14, 2010 6:45 AM by Sharlee Barriere

Cops Could Face Death in Post-Katrina Shootings

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Four New Orleans police officers could face
the death penalty after being accused of gunning down two unarmed
people in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the latest
twist for a corruption-plagued department that already faces
several federal investigations.
The four officers were charged along with two others in a
27-count indictment unsealed Tuesday.
The indictment charges Sgts. Robert Gisevius and Kenneth Bowen,
officer Anthony Villavaso and former officer Robert Faulcon with
deprivation of rights under color of law and use of a weapon during
the commission of a crime. They could face the death penalty if
convicted, though U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said prosecutors haven't
decided whether to seek that punishment.
Five former New Orleans police officers already have pleaded
guilty to helping cover up the shootings on the Danziger Bridge
that left two men dead and four wounded just days after the August
2005 hurricane that devastated the city. In one instance, a
mentally disabled man was allegedly shot in the back and stomped
before he died.
Prosecutors say officers fabricated witness statements,
falsified reports and planted a gun in an attempt to make it appear
the shootings were justified. It was a shocking example of the
violence and confusion that followed the deadly hurricane.
The case is one of several probes of alleged misconduct by New
Orleans police officers that the Justice Department opened after
the storm. Last month, five current or former officers were charged
in the shooting death of 31-year-old Henry Glover, whose burned
body turned up after Katrina.
With 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, officers from a
department with a history of corruption were forced to battle
rampant crime, and some became criminals themselves. Dozens of
officers were fired or suspended for abandoning their posts.
In the bridge shooting case, seven officers were charged with
murder or attempted murder in December 2006 but a state judge threw
out all the charges in August 2008. Federal authorities then
stepped in a month later to launch their own investigation.
So far, five former New Orleans police officers have pleaded
guilty to lesser charges of helping cover up the shootings on the
Danziger Bridge and await sentencing.
The latest indictments come shortly after the city's new mayor
replaced its former police chief and invited a Justice Department
team to overhaul the police department.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department is
working with city officials to restore residents' trust in the
police department.
"Put simply, we will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who are
sworn to protect the public," Attorney General Eric Holder said
Tuesday in New Orleans.
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and retired Sgt. Gerard Dugue, who helped
investigate the shootings, were charged with participating in a
cover-up to make it appear the shootings were justified. Charges
against them include obstruction of justice.
It's not the first time the Justice Department has intervened.
In the 1990s, the Justice Department investigated several
high-profile police corruption cases, including a police officer
convicted of arranging a woman's 1994 murder.
The new batch of federal probes are bearing fruit as the city
welcomes a new mayor, Mitch Landrieu, and his new police
superintendent, Ronal Serpas. At Landrieu's request, the Justice
Department launched the top-to-bottom review of the department.
Mary Howell, a civil rights attorney who represents relatives of
one of the Danziger bridge shooting victims, said the police
department has been plagued by a pattern of "episodic crises"
that have eluded lasting reforms.
"There is either a refusal or inability by local authorities to
take care of them," she said. "I think it's a question of
leadership. This stuff requires institutional changes that require
the political leadership of the community to make it last."
Eric Hessler, a lawyer for Gisevius, said the indictment wasn't
a surprise.
"We have long anticipated that this day may come," he said.
Claude Kelly, a lawyer for Dugue, called it "a travesty" and
denied his client participated in a cover-up.
"This is just overreaching, Monday morning quarterbacking by
the government," Kelly said.
Faulcon, who resigned from the department shortly after the
storm, was arrested at his home in Houston. Gisevius, Bowen and
Villavaso surrendered at FBI headquarters in New Orleans.
U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said prosecutors will ask for all four
of them to be detained.
Some of the defense attorneys bristled at the arrest of Faulcon.
"They really didn't have to do that," said Frank DeSalvo, a
lawyer for Bowen. "Nobody is going anywhere. We've never thought
about doing anything other than face these charges."
Kaufman and Dugue weren't arrested. A date for the men's initial
court appearances wasn't immediately set.
The indictment claims Faulcon shot 40-year-old Ronald Madison,
who had severe mental disabilities, 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.
His brother, Lance Madison, was arrested and charged with trying
to kill police officers. He was jailed for three weeks and released
without being indicted.
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.
All six officers are charged with participating in the cover-up.
Dugue retired from the force earlier this year. Kaufman has been
on paid sick leave.

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