Posted: Jul 8, 2011 6:21 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A federal jury heard testimony Thursday that a police officer charged in deadly shootings on a New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina was involved in a separate shooting during the storm's chaotic aftermath.
Former officer Michael Hunter, a government witness in the trial of five current or former officers charged in the Danziger Bridge shootings, said Sgt. Robert Gisevius told him about a separate incident after the 2005 storm in which he fired at people who tried to take a truck he was driving.
Hunter said Gisevius had a "troubled look on his face" when they encountered each other on a highway, so he asked him what had happened.
"He said some people just tried to take his truck and he had to empty his magazine to get them away from him," Gisevius said.
Hunter said he didn't ask Gisevius if his bullets struck anyone. Last week, however, former officer Ignatius Hills testified that Gisevius told him he shot and killed someone who tried to take his truck. Hills said he didn't press Gisevius for any details.
It wasn't clear from the trial testimony whether the shooting was formally reported or investigated. Gisevius' attorney, Eric Hessler, declined to comment on the allegations following Thursday's proceedings.
Five former officers, including Hunter and Hills, have pleaded guilty to participating in a cover-up to make it appear that police were justified in shooting six people, killing two, on the bridge less than a week after the storm.
Hunter testified Wednesday that he shot at fleeing people without justification after he drove a truckload of officers to the bridge in response to a distress call. He also said he saw Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, one of the five defendants, randomly spray gunfire at wounded, unarmed people and repeatedly stomp on a dying man who had already been shot while running from police.
Hunter returned to the witness stand Thursday for cross-examination by defense attorneys, who tried to portray Hunter as a liar tailoring his story to please the Justice Department prosecutors who cut him a deal.
"God's going to hold me accountable for my actions," Hunter said. "I lied to Him, too."
"So there's really nobody you won't lie to?" Hessler asked.
"There was a time when I would have lied to just about anybody," replied Hunter, who insisted his trial testimony was completely truthful.
Before Katrina, Hunter was suspended three days for lying to a superior. He denied that allegation but admitted lying to a state grand jury about what happened on the Danziger Bridge as part of a cover-up.
"I didn't have the courage to tell the truth," Hunter said.
Hessler asked him if anyone explicitly instructed him to lie about the shootings when he gave a taped statement to police investigators.
"No, sir, but it was implied," Hunter said. "The implied message was that you make sure you justify what you did."
Sgt. Arthur Kaufman, who was assigned to investigate the shootings, is charged in the alleged cover-up. Hunter said Kaufman never told him what to say when he was interviewed by police investigators.
"He wanted us to make sure we had our statements corroborate each other," Hunter said.
Jurors also heard testimony Thursday from Jacquelyn Madison Brown, whose 40-year-old, mentally disabled brother, Ronald Madison, was shot and killed on the west side of the bridge.
Former officer Robert Faulcon allegedly shot Ronald Madison in the back with a shotgun as the man and his brother, Lance, ran from police. Prosecutors say neither Madison brother was armed or posed a threat to police. Lance Madison, however, was arrested on attempted murder charges and jailed for 25 days. A state grand jury later cleared him of the charges.
Brown said her brothers didn't evacuate for Katrina because Ronald wanted to stay and take care of his dogs. Lance Madison looked after his brother, who lived with his mother his entire life and wasn't able to care for himself.
"We were very protective of him," she said.
Brown was staying in Lafayette when another brother called and broke the news that Lance had been arrested and Ronald was killed. She had been watching sketchy news reports about the bridge shootings, not knowing her brothers were involved. Brown said her mother wouldn't even let Ronald have a toy gun, and he wouldn't know how to use a real one.
In 2006, after Lance was cleared, seven officers were indicted in state court on murder and attempted murder charges. But a judge dismissed the charges in 2008.
"We were very upset. We were angry. We were outraged," Brown recalled. "We felt that the judicial system had failed us."
The Justice Department started investigating after the state charges were dropped, one of several civil rights probes of alleged police misconduct it opened after Katrina.