NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – A New Orleans teenager whose family members were wounded by police in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina testified on Tuesday that officers punched and kicked him before arresting him at the scene.
One officer who struck Leonard Bartholomew IV, then 14, as he lay on the ground blamed “the heat of the moment” for his actions as he testified in the second week of a federal trial that could send five police officers to prison for life.
The officers are charged in connection with the killing of two civilians, 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, on September 4, 2005. Four others were wounded, including Bartholomew’s mother, who lost an arm.
New Orleans police officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Faulcon, Robert Gisevius, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman face 25 counts of depriving citizens of civil rights, using a weapon in committing a crime, or obstruction of justice.
A sixth is scheduled for trial in the fall. Five other officers have pleaded guilty to a role in the incident on the Danziger bridge.
Kevin Bryan, now a deputy sheriff in a neighboring parish, was one of a dozen New Orleans police officers who responded that day to a police radio call indicating officers were under fire near the bridge.
As the truck arrived at the bridge, gunfire erupted outside and officers in the back of the truck saw a “skinny black male” run past, Bryan testified.
Bryan saw an officer shoot at the runner and miss, so he began chasing the running man. By the time he reached him, Bryan testified, another officer had intervened and the runner was lying on the ground.
But Bryan “slapped him with an open hand” anyway, he told jurors.
Asked by prosecutor Barbara Bernstein why he did that, Bryan blamed “the heat of the moment” and said he felt horrible that he had hit “a kid” who was not armed.
Defense attorneys argue that in the hysteria and trauma following the hurricane and flooding, police were doing their best to keep the peace that day and believed they were being fired upon.
The “kid” Bryan struck was Bartholomew, who told jurors police struck him in the face and kicked him that day. He said he saw his family taken from the bridge in an ambulance as police arrested him.
They later released him in downtown New Orleans, miles from where he had been staying.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said.
A stranger befriended Bartholomew and took him to her home in Baton Rouge. He stayed with her for 10 days before connecting with an uncle who finally took him to see his family in the hospital.
Bartholomew said that as he looked at a cousin who had taken several gunshots, he was wracked with guilt at having dodged the bullets.
“I should have been shot too. It wasn’t right that everybody else had to go through all that pain and I was all right,” he told jurors.
The trial is expected to continue for several weeks.
(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)
Mochila insert follows.