Six more New Orleans police officers have been indicted by the federal government for their involvement in the killing of two black men in the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and in a broad effort to cover it up. The charges were announced yesterday by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Assistant AG Thomas Perez, along with other New Orleans officials.
Four officers (Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius, Officer Anthony Villavaso and former Officer Robert Faulcon) were charged with civil rights violations for killing a teenaged boy named James Brissette. Their supervisors, Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and former Sgt. Gerard Dugue, were charged with helping orchestrate a cover-up of the September 5, 2005, shooting that also left a 40-year-old mentally disabled man named Ronald Madison dead. Four other people, relatives of Brissette, were also injured that day.
Five years later, FBI investigators are still trying to piece together the actual events that day. The NOPD maintains that its police officers were defending themselves from gun fire on the Danzinger Bridge, but victim and witness accounts say the victims were unarmed. In 2008, a criminal court judge threw out a state-level case being prosecuted by the Orleans Parish district attorney, prompting the involvement of the federal government.
Police claimed that Madison was armed and shooting at police officers, and that they shot him once. Autopsy reports showed seven gunshot wounds, five in his back. Brissette was shot seven times. The four other people who were shot, some at close range, were severely injured, as well.
The DOJ has been moving steadily down the list of offending officers and handing out charges. In the last two months, DOJ has filed similar charges against five other police officers who were on the bridge. All have pleaded guilty. Those officers admitted that they lied in their police reports and made up witnesses—inventing a woman named “Lakeisha” to help corroborate their story—and planted a gun and fabricated officer accounts in police reports.
As dramatic as it all sounds, these are not the only corruption and brutality cases NOPD is facing. DOJ has eight separate investigations open into NOPD misconduct and is set to undertake a broader, federally led reform of the department.