Six officers with the New Orleans Police Department were charged today in connection with the federal investigation of a police-involved shooting on the Danziger Bridge in the days following Hurricane Katrina, the Justice Department announced today. The incident resulted in the death of two civilians and the wounding of four others.
The indictment charges four officers—Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, and Anthony Villavaso—in connection with the shootings, and charges those four officers and two supervisors—Arthur "Archie" Kaufman and Gerard Dugue—with helping to obstruct justice during the subsequent investigations.
"We will not tolerate wrongdoing by those who have sworn to protect the public," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
The indictment alleges that officers Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon, and Villavaso opened fire on an unarmed family on the east side of the bridge, killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding Susan Bartholomew, 38; Leonard Bartholomew III, 44; the Bartholomews' daughter, Lesha, 17; and the Bartholomews' nephew, Jose Holmes, 19. The Bartholomews' 14-year-old son ran away from the shooting and was fired at, but was not injured.
The second shooting occurred minutes later on the west side of the bridge, where officers shot at brothers Lance and Ronald Madison, killing Ronald, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities. The indictment alleges Faulcon shot Ronald Madison in the back as Ronald ran away. Bowen is charged with stomping and kicking Ronald Madison while Ronald was wounded, but not yet dead. Ronald later died at the scene.
"In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans were relying upon law enforcement to protect public safety," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. "The officers indicted today are accused of abusing their power and violating their public trust."
The four officers charged with killing civilians could face life in prison or the death penalty. The officers face additional penalties for the remaining counts, which include charges related to a conspiracy to cover up what had happened on the bridge, and conspiracies to file charges against two of the victims, Lance Madison and Jose Holmes, on the basis of false evidence.
According to the indictment, officers at the scene of the shooting arrested Lance Madison and charged him with eight counts of attempting to kill police officers. Officers collected no guns or shell casings on the day of the shooting, and 30 casings they collected more than a month later were allegedly fired by officers rather than civilians. Madison was held in jail for three weeks, but was eventually released without indictment.
The indictment accuses Kaufman and Dugue of joining the other four defendants in a conspiracy to cover up what had happened on the bridge and to make the shootings appear justified. Kaufman is charged with obtaining a gun from his home and claiming to have found the gun at the bridge on the day after the shooting, and with making up witnesses and then creating statements from the fictional witnesses to help justify the shooting.
Kaufman and Dugue are also accused of holding a meeting in an abandoned and gutted New Orleans PD building where homicide sergeants instructed officers involved in the shooting to get their stories straight before giving formal audiotaped statements about the shooting.
Kaufman and Dugue, who concluded in a formal report that the shooting was justified and that Lance Madison and Jose Holmes should be arrested, are also accused of conspiring with each other and with other officers to have Madison and Holmes prosecuted on the basis of false evidence.
Kaufman faces a maximum penalty of 120 years in prison, and Dugue faces a maximum penalty of 70 years in prison.
Today's indictment follows guilty pleas from five former New Orleans PD officers who admitted that they participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice and cover up what happened on Sept. 4, 2005. The officers include former Lt. Michael Lohman, former detective Jeffrey Lehrmann, and former Officers Michael Hunter, Robert Barrios, and Ignatius Hills.