New Orleans Police Officers Sentenced in Hurricane Katrina Killings

Four New Orleans police officers have been sentenced to prison for the murder of two people and wounding of four others who were trying to escape the flooding of the city during hurricane Katrina. A fifth officer was found guilty of attempting to cover up the shootings on the Danziger bridge in 2005.

Louisiana declined to prosecute the officers, so they were tried in federal court.

The federal investigation revealed falsified police reports, planted evidence and invented witnesses that prosecutors said showed a culture of corruption in the New Orleans police department.

During the hurricane, some officers were dedicated to saving lives while others, armed with automatic weapons, behaved like vigilantes. Senior officers spread false assertions that martial law was declared and encouraged the shooting of looters.

Two officers, sergeants Kenneth Bowen and Robert Gisevius, were sentenced to 40 years in prison for killing 17-year-old James Brissette and wounding four other people. Another officer, Anthony Villavaso, received 38 years.

Bowen used an unauthorised AK-47 to spray bullets at a group of civilians hiding behind a concrete barrier. Gisevius used a military-style M-4 rifle to shoot at unarmed people. Villavaso fired at least nine bullets at civilians with his AK-47.

A fourth policeman, Robert Faulcon, was sentenced to 65 years for killing Ronald Madison with a shotgun. Faulcon shot him in the back. Madison’s brother, Lance, was arrested and accused of attempted murder after the police tried to cover up their actions by falsely accusing him of shooting at officers on the bridge. He was held in jail for three weeks before a court freed him.

Lance Madison told the court that his brother was “gunned down and killed without mercy”. He said to the convicted officers: “You are the reason I can no longer trust law enforcement.”

Former sergeant, Arthur Kaufman, who was not present when the shootings occurred, was charged for engaging in the coverup. He will serve six years in prison.

Sherrel Johnson, Brissette’s mother, repeated several times in an emotional statement directed at her son’s killers: “I can’t for the life of me understand what they were thinking.”

Bowen’s father, also called Kenneth, said he was proud of his son and that he had made a split-second decision and then acted “in what he thought was the best interest of the community”.

The officers sentenced are among 20 policemen charged with killings, assaults and fabrication of evidence during Katrina. Some have received lengthy sentences in earlier trials. Others pleaded guilty and gave evidence against former colleagues.

In a separate trial last year, David Warren was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison for killing Henry Glover, 31. Another officer, Greg McRae, was sent to prison for 17 years for setting fire to a car with Glover’s body in it in an attempt to cover up the crime.

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