Hurricane Katrina Danzinger Bridge Killer Cops Sentences Overturned

Remember those New Orleans police officers sentenced last year for the shooting (and subsequently attempting cover up) death of victims of Hurricane Katrina on the Danzinger Bridge? If you don’t remember the story I blogged about it here and here so you’ll be able to catch up. But until you do, just know that until now, the five former police officers in question were rightfully serving major prison time for their actions on the Danzinger Bridge at a time when they were supposed to be assisting the general public during the nation’s worst ever natural disaster. Today, however, there’s a new development in what should have been an open and shut case. Thanks to a claim of prosecutorial misconduct they’ll be free to walk pending a new trial.

(CBS/AP) – A judge has ordered that, due to “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct,” five former New Orleans police officers who were convicted of civil rights violations in the fatal shooting of two unarmed people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will get a new trial.

The U.S. District judge ruled Tuesday that prosecutors’ “highly unusual, extensive and truly bizarre actions” warrant throwing out the convictions of Archie Kaufman, Kenneth Bowen, Robert Gisevius, Robert Faulcon and Anthony Villavaso.

Four of the former officers were sentenced in April 2012to between 38 and 65 years in prison for shooting and killing two unarmed people and wounding four others on September 4, 2005 at the Danziger Bridge. Kaufman was sentenced to six years for his role in covering up the shooting.

danzinger-bringe-shooting-defendants (1)Attorneys for the former officers say a series of leaks to news organizations were part of a “secret public relations campaign” that deprived their clients of a fair trial. The former officers’ attorneys also cited a series of anonymous online posts by senior prosecutors. Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resigned in December 2012 after two of his top deputies acknowledged they had been posting anonymous comments on nola.com, the Times-Picayune’s companion website, about cases their office had handled, including the Danziger Bridge investigation.

Several months before his resignation, Letten had told Engelhardt he didn’t authorize anyone from his staff to leak information about Lohman’s case and was furious when the reports were published.

In his opinion, Judge Kurt Englehardt, who heard the case originally, wrote: “This case started as one featuring allegations of brazen abuse of authority, violation of 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. 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.” (source)

This is very unfortunate; but ultimately I think the judge did the right thing. Why? Because as guilty as I and many others believe these men to be, even so, they deserve a fair trial per the U.S. Constitution. Clearly, prosecutorial misconduct by way of leaking information to the media goes against that very guarantee. Hopefully with a new trial these guys will be convicted as they should be for what they did. That would be the cold-blooded murder of four individuals including Ronald Madison, a mentally disabled black man who was shot in the back as well.

Romell Madison, the brother of the deceased has offered the following statement:

“We are extremely disappointed in Judge Engelhardt’s decision granting a new trial in the Danziger criminal civil rights case.

It has been over 8 years since our brother Ronald was shot and killed on the Danziger bridge and our brother Lance was falsely arrested and framed on 8 counts of attempted murder. This decision re-opens this terrible wound not only for our family but our entire community.

From the beginning of this ordeal our family has sought justice, not just for ourselves, but for all the victims and families. We urge the Department of Justice to appeal Judge Engelhardt’s decision.

Our fight for justice continues.”

Here’s a look back at a report from 2010: