>Six charged in post-Katrina shooting, cover up

>Let’s hope this story from The New York Times is the first step in bringing justice to the killings of civilians in the days following Hurricane Katrina.

Four of the men — former Officer Robert Faulcon, Sgt. Kenneth Bowen, Sgt. Robert Gisevius and Officer Anthony Villavaso — were charged with federal civil rights violations in the killing of 17-year-old James Brissette and the wounding of four others, all members of the same family, when the officers came across a group on the bridge in eastern New Orleans and opened fire. In addition, Mr. Faulcon, who was arrested Tuesday morning by F.B.I. agents in Fresno, Tex., was charged with shooting Ronald Madison, a 40-year-old man with severe mental disabilities, in the back as he tried to flee. All four of the men could possibly face the death penalty. 

The Danziger case is the most high-profile of at least eight incidents involving New Orleans police officers that are being actively investigated by federal law enforcement officials. The case became a flash point, in the city and throughout the nation, a symbol of the violence, disorder and official ineptitude in the storm’s wake. In particular, it shined a spotlight on New Orleans’s long-troubled Police Department, the target of a major corruption investigation in the 1990s. Two former officers are sitting on death row. 

More from the story:

The four men who were charged with killing Mr. Brissette are in custody, federal officials said, who added that the investigation was continuing. The three officers have been suspended without pay, a police spokesman said. Two other men charged on Tuesday — one an officer and the other a recent retiree — received summonses, said a spokeswoman for the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

 Of course, lawyers for the defendants were ready with their response to the indictments:

“We’ve known it was coming for at least six months and suspected it was coming for a year,” said Frank DeSalvo, a lawyer for Sergeant Bowen. “It’s not a shock. We’re ready.” 

Eric Hessler, a lawyer who represents Sergeant Gisevius, said federal officials should have considered the chaos that the police were operating in during the first few days after Hurricane Katrina. 

“The federal government has clearly forgotten or chosen to ignore the circumstances police officers were working under and clearly chose not to factor in any of those circumstances when they decided to charge them with an intentional act of murder,” Mr. Hessler said in an interview. 

The Times also reported on the details of what happened on the Danziger Bridge on that fateful day in September 2005:

Responding to a call that the police were under fire, officers drove to the bridge over the Industrial Canal in eastern New Orleans in a Budget rental truck. Some were armed with assault rifles, others with a shotgun or a semiautomatic pistol. 

Mr. Brissette and five members of the Bartholomew family were walking across the bridge to get food and other supplies from a supermarket, the indictment reads, when the officers opened fire. Four members of the Bartholomew family were shot. Susan Bartholomew, at the time 38, lost part of her arm; her husband, Leonard Bartholomew III, was shot in the head. Mr. Brissette, who was killed, was shot seven times. 

Some officers then traveled to the other side of the bridge and found two brothers, Ronald and Lance Madison, who were on their way to check on a dentist’s office that belonged to their oldest brother, Dr. Romell Madison. According to the indictment, Mr. Faulcon then shot Ronald Madison to death with a shotgun. Afterward, it continues, Sergeant Bowen kicked and stomped on Mr. Madison as he lay dying on the ground. 

Lance Madison was arrested at the scene and later held on eight counts of attempted murder of a police officer. He was never formally charged and was released after three weeks in custody. 

The three officers and Mr. Faulcon were also charged along Sgt. Arthur Kaufman and former Sgt. Gerard Dugue, both homicide detectives who were assigned to investigate the shootings, in connection with a cover-up of the shootings. Sergeant Kaufman faces up to 120 years in prison, while Mr. Dugue, who recently retired, faces up to 70. The cover-up described in the indictment is methodical and blatant. It recounts a scene in the abandoned Seventh District police station where, it says, Sergeant Kaufman and Mr. Dugue met with other officers to ensure that their stories were consistent. Sergeant Kaufman is also accused of creating fictional witnesses and planting a pistol at the scene of the shootings. 

Of course, this is great news for the families of the victims. I’m also glad to know that along with this case, five other officers last month were indicted in the killing of Henry Glover, whose body was found in an abandoned car. You may remember that I wrote about this case and praised ProPublica’s efforts to bring this and other cases to light.

However, I’m sure there are plenty more undocumented killings of civilians that need to be investigated and brought out the darkness. Of course, that depends on whether the media is willing to serve as a watch dog and as a conduit of information for these families and city residents on why these people were mysteriously killed.

They were part of the fueling of the hysteria surrounding supposed lawlessness that infiltrated the city in the days and weeks after the hurrincane. It will be interesting to see if they will redeem themselves after their hypersensationalist coverage of the 2005 tragedy and revert to its main role of informing the public and attempting to answer these burning questions that continue to inflict the Crescent City.