WASHINGTON — Five New Orleans policemen were sentenced Wednesday to prison terms in connection with a shooting in the days after Hurricane Katrina which left two civilians dead and four others injured, prosecutors said.
The sentencings in New Orleans conclude the prosecution in the so-called Danziger Bridge incident in the chaos that followed Hurricane Katrina, in which police opened fire on a group of residents on September 4, 2005, and then covered up the incident.
The Justice Department said federal Judge Kurt Englehardt ordered a sentence of 65 years for officer Robert Faulcon, one of the policemen who opened fire with assault rifles and a shotgun at an unarmed family walking on the east side of the bridge and later shot a man running from the scene.
Sergeants Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius were sentenced to 40 years in prison and officer Anthony Villavaso was sentenced to 38 years. They were all accused of direct involvement in the shootings.
Sergeant Arthur Kaufman, a supervisor who was not involved in the shootings, but who helped the other officers cover up what they had done, was sentenced to six years in prison.
“We hope that today’s sentences give a measure of peace and closure to the victims of this terrible shooting, who have suffered unspeakable pain and who have waited so patiently for justice to be done,” Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez said.
“The officers who shot innocent people on the bridge and then went to great lengths to cover up their own crimes have finally been held accountable for their actions. As a result of today’s sentencing, the city of New Orleans can take another step forward.”
Bowen, Gisevius, Faulcon and Villavaso were convicted in connection with the shootings of multiple victims, including 17-year-old James Brissette and 40-year-old Ronald Madison, who died on the bridge.
Those four officers and Kaufman also were convicted of obstructing justice during the subsequent investigations.
Five other officers pleaded guilty before trial and cooperated with the investigation.
According to prosecutors, police gunfire struck the victims multiple times, wounding a New Orleans couple, their daughter, and their nephew, and killing family friend Brissette.
A second shooting occurred several minutes later, when officers traveled to the other side of the bridge to chase two men, brothers Lance and Ronald Madison.
Evidence indicated Faulcon used a shotgun to shoot Ronald Madison in the back as the man with severe mental and physical disabilities was running away.
Hurricane Katrina smashed through the city’s poorly maintained levees on August 29, 2005, causing Gulf of Mexico waters to flood in. Eighty percent of the city was under water at the height of the storm, and thousands were stranded on rooftops.
Reports of widespread looting and armed gangs roaming the city shifted the government’s already botched response to the disaster from humanitarian aid to a military operation.