A federal judge tossed the convictions of five ex-New Orleans police officers accused of shooting an unarmed family and firing on others as they tried to flee the flooded city.
District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt issued a 129-page ruling that cited a lengthy list of “egregious and inflammatory” comments made online by at least three Justice Department officials.
One of the top federal prosecutors in the case questioned how the officers were issued badges in a comment posted on a newspaper website just minutes before jury selection began, according to the ruling.
Former officers Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon, Anthony Villavaso and Arthur Kaufman were convicted in 2012 of a variety of civil rights violations for their roles in the Danziger Bridge shootings that left two people dead and four people seriously wounded six days after Hurricane Katrina.
They were sentenced to six to 65 years in prison and appealed their convictions last year, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
The judge ruled that the prosecutors’ comments, posted under a variety of online identities, created a “21st century carnival atmosphere” and necessitated a new trial.
"This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of the law and corruption of the criminal justice system; unfortunately, though the focus has switched from the accused to the accusers, it has continued to be about those very issues," the judge said in his ruling. "After much reflection, the court cannot journey as far as it has in this case only to ironically accept grotesque prosecutorial misconduct in the end."
The Justice Department issued a statement saying that it was disappointed in the decision and would consider its options.
Romell Madison, whose brother, Ronald Madison, was killed on the bridge, told NOLA.com that he was disappointed with the ruling and hoped the Justice Department would appeal.
Prosecutors are forbidden under Justice Department policies from making public statements that could influence the outcome of a case.
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